by Hope Tarr, historical (2006)
Medallion Press, $6.99, ISBN 1-932815-75-9
Vanquished is set amidst the suffragette movement in 1890 London. While author Hope Tarr has a treasure trove of possibilities to work on, I am struck by how flat I find the main characters in this book to be. I close the book having no sense of who these characters are.
The plot is pretty simple: besieged by a perplexing problem where if he doesn't pay up his gambling debts he'll be very sorry indeed, our hero Hadrian St Claire takes up an offer from an MP, Josiah Dandrige. For five thousand pounds, Hadrian will seduce and take a very revealing photo of a prominent suffragette leader Caledona Rivers in order to discredit her completely. Hadrian, a photographer, falls for Callie, which naturally makes things more complicated than they should be.
To give Ms Tarr plenty of credit, this is not a standard Big Deception story where the heroine realizes what the hero is up to after the first love scene. After plenty of anguished internal conflicts with himself, Hadrian ends up doing what he feels is right to protect Callie without having to be cruel to her. Therefore, I suppose one can say that this is not a typical Big Deception story. Also, there are plenty of color and atmosphere in this story as Ms Tarr tries to recreate a genuine atmosphere of the middle-class society of that era, with both characters being without a single drop of noble blood.
Therefore, Vanquished could have been a spectacularly refreshing historical romance. In a way, it is, but the main characters are pretty flat so the story doesn't completely come alive like it should have. The problem here is twofold as Hadrian and Callie have different problems when it comes to their respective characterizations.
For Hadrian, the problem is that Ms Tarr gives him plenty of backstory involving all kinds of things to the point of overkill as if to overcompensate for Hadrian's hidden agenda in his courtship of Callie, but I have no idea who Hadrian really is. He keeps saying that he has no heart, he is a blackguard, et cetera, but why is he this way? In the prologue, he is rescued from the streets by William Gladstone who gives him a dream to pursue. But in the first chapter, he has raked up gambling debts when he's not sleeping with his models. Why is he like this? I have no idea. I know probably too much of every icky detail of Hadrian's life before this but I don't know what makes the man tick. He is a classic example of an author mistaking backstory for character development.
For Callie, on one hand she's a pretty convincing suffragette in the sense that she isn't afraid to control her own sexuality. On the other hand, every thing else about her is a cliché. It also puzzles me that her biggest concern in her relationship with Hadrian is not how the public will react should her pristine public image be tarnished should word gets out that the Maid of Mayfair is sleeping with a man but how she is not pretty enough or hip enough for him. She also has some familiar baggages from her previous marriage. As a result, Callie becomes a distressingly familiar and most pedestrian kind of heroine despite a promising start.
It is probably worth noting that, despite the snooty response in the amusingly haughty submission guideline FAQ on the Medallion Press website about how they don't publish erotica, this book has love scenes that will be right at home at Brava or Ellora's Cave. Think rear door choo-choo games.
Vanquished is an interesting story and it's a safe bet for something different from the formulaic historical romances out there. However, the characters are pretty familiar despite the setting and the author fails to make them interesting as far as I'm concerned. Vanquished, therefore, is an interesting read but unfortunately not interesting enough to be memorable.
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