by Amanda Quick, historical (1990)
Bantam, $4.99, ISBN 0-553-59028-6
While things are never so simple in reality, it is easy for me to want to blame Surrender for the upsurge of reckless and foolish heroines in historical romances. Victoria Huntington, our heroine, is a textbook example of such heroine. She doesn't want to marry because a man will only stifle her independence, she likes doing impetuous things like dressing up like a man to visit places like gaming hells and brothels, and when one tells her to stay put, she'll run faster into danger than you can say, "Crazy idiot on the loose!" What sets apart Amanda Quick as a professional compared to other authors who think they can do the same with their heroines, though, is that Ms Quick makes Victoria a surprisingly fun heroine to root for despite the many occasions of Victoria's baffling foolishness.
Victoria indulges in her crazy escapades as an increasingly reckless means to distract herself from her disturbing dreams where she constantly relives a traumatic experience in her past. This weakness is seized by our hero, Lucas Colebrook, who needs to marry Victoria in order to get his hands on her fortune. He may be the Earl of Stonevale, but he's a bankrupt one thanks to the previous Earl who wasn't exactly the most responsible man when it came to money. Lucas is also attracted to Victoria, which is why he is pursuing her when there are easier and more malleable rich women out and about in Society. He offers Victoria an opportunity to explore the seedier side of town with him, and while she suspects that he wants something from her, she decides to accept his offer.
As you can imagine, Victoria learns of his more mercenary reason to marry her only after Lucas has engineered things to ensure that she has to marry him. I don't blame her for getting angry, especially when Lucas also high-handedly announces that she's going to be a sweet domesticated miss from then on because he says so. But she's not completely stupid in her self-righteous anger and she also eventually accepts that she is to blame as much as Lucas for her predicament, so she may as well lie in the bed she has made and make the best of it. Lucas, on his part, may have his patronizing daddy-knows-best moments, but he is smart enough to know when to give as well as to take. He and Victoria, therefore, eventually come to a middle ground and it's enjoyable to follow them as they get there. She doesn't make it easy for him, but then again, he doesn't make it easy for her either and the two of them seem to have lots of fun sparring in the process.
The weakest aspect of this story is the suspense subplot that is tied up to Victoria's past. In a way, I feel that Surrender is a huge missed opportunity because Ms Quick fails to make good use of the Gothic elements already present in her story. Victoria's aunt and her friends dabble in various amateurish scientific experiments, for example, and they also play with various electrical devices. The theory that electricity can animate dead bodies is brought up here as Victoria fears that the villain from her past may not be dead after all. But still, all these elements never really come together well. Instead of a chilling Gothic mystery that makes full use of its Frankenstein monster overtones, I get instead a disjointed mystery subplot that is put together by a series of head-scratching coincidences and a typical villain-blabs-all standoff. The romance is easily the best part of the story.
Surrender is a far more enjoyable book than the previous book by this author, Seduction, but still, the plot is often disjointed enough to leave me thinking that this book could have been so much better. I can't help feeling that the best has yet to come from this author.
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