Diamond In The Rough
by Patricia Waddell, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7325-9
This Victorian-era romance is set in Africa. It'd no doubt love to be a more romantic King Solomon's Mine crossed with Out Of Africa when it comes to the adventurous nature of the former and a dreamy heroine who finds love and herself in the latter. Minus the tackier things like airplane crashes, hideous old Gargools, and other unpleasant things, naturally, and with just a teeny-weeny little bit White Man's Superiority Over The Natives thing, maybe just to preserve that moron H Rider Haggard's "Look! African darkies are so stupid!" legacy.
Ms Waddell succeeds pretty well with the heroine, Olivia St John, a rather sensible young woman who finds love and adventure like she had always dreamed of in Africa. But something went wrong with the hero, Matthew Quinlan. He's supposed to be dashing and adventurous and roguish. He is whiny, annoying, and obnoxious instead. Olivia inherits a boardinghouse in one of the many diamond mine colonies in Africa, but to get there, she needs someone to escort her across Africa. Matthew doesn't want to, but since he owes Olivia's lawyer a favor, he has to. That doesn't mean he can't dissuade her, of course, so he insists on a kiss a day as he escorts her across the country into adventures involving a diamond and a hero who just can't quit whining about his commitment issues when he's ahead.
Despite her inexplicable tendency to be attracted to men who manhandle her, paw her, and then toss her away after the jollies in a manly bout of aggrievement, Olivia is pretty okay as she proves that while she is a dreamy sort, she doesn't do stupid things either. The adventurous road trip is okay, but the hero's repetitious bouts of self-pity whiny party really bogs down the story by the second half. Worse, he's so darned predictable in his whiny one-man show. Not only is he a high-maintenance whinebag, he also has this irritating and cowardly way of dumping all responsibilities of his own actions on Olivia. After initiating the kissing thing and making her enjoy it, for example, he decides that he is attracted too much to her and the kissing thing must stop. So does he tell her that they must stop? No, he tells himself that he will only kiss her and maybe even seduce her if she asks him to. Way to go in eating the cake and robbing the bakery while telling the judge that the cake secretly and telepathically asks him to do it. He does this sort of evading his own responsibilities in setting in motion events several more times in the story, and it annoys me no end. How cowardly, and how annoying that the author seems to be asking me to accept this behavior of Matthew as some scoundrel-like adorable behavior of a tormented man or something. A castrated man is not a very appealing hero.
His behavior naturally leads to familiar drama like Olivia's "Why isn't he kissing me? Am I ugly?" whinefest. I especially love the original twist of having the hero try to slake his lust on a slutty woman, only to realize that he now has erections only for Prim Missies, and of course Olivia must stumble upon him in that sordid scene. Patricia Waddell's romance story here is predictable and boring when it was done in 1990, and it is still boring and predictable today.
Diamond In The Rough is a very readable story, if one can overlook rather condescending descriptions of natives such as the Token Minority Loyal Friend of the Hero ("He wasn't wearing a shirt under his white jacket, and the trousers stopped several inches short of his ankles. His feet were bare and his head was swatched in a bright reed turban. 'Missy John, welcome.'") or how our Glorious White Man has to be one to deliver Native Women Experiencing Delivery Problems from pain, as if the local native medicine people haven't been doing their job well enough. The heroine is okay, the external conflicts are readable. But unfortunately, the only way I think one can polish Matthew Quinlan is by muzzling him and giving him a blistering lecture about growing balls and being a man for once.
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