He Said Yes
by Patricia Waddell, historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7500-6
If the author hasn't relied solely on clichés, He Said Yes could have been an interesting story about the process of a man soliciting a woman to be his mistress, only to have both falling in love with each other along the way. Patricia Waddell, however, soon resorts to the same old "innocence and virtue conquers all" formula, turning He Said Yes into a Regency-era Pretty Woman story minus half the script. The end result is a very predictable story that just drags on and on until the last page.
Marshall Bedford is a typical youngish nobleman in his early thirties. The Marquis of Waltham is in London to oversee his sister getting a husband. The usual. He is half-heartedly looking for a mistress too, if only for a way to escape the tedium of his new life as a serious Marquis. One day he is attracted to the beautiful assistant in the modiste's store that he brings his sister too. Shall he follow her home and offer her a nice proposition? Maybe he would visit her again. On her part, Evelyn Dennsworth (a vicar's daughter), is attracted too. Surely it doesn't hurt to know just his name, right?
But since it is the easiest to make the heroine desperate and indebted to the hero to give the story a shove, the author proceeds to have Eve accused of stealing a customer's brooch. Guess who bails her out, hires her a lawyer, and sets her up at nice house. Eve is grateful. Eve, however, is saving her virtue for the sake of her reputation! (Of course, the pragmatic side of me wonders just what kind of a reputation a now penniless and unemployable woman has left to keep in those times, but hey, that's why I'm not a romance heroine, I guess.) And from thereon, the story becomes a very tedious and often tiresome read.
I can't help but to wonder what this story could have been, because in the first few chapters, the author doesn't even pretend to sugarcoat the whole mercenary, stalkerish tendencies of Marshall in any way. Eve is the usual pathetic and needy heroine whose sole virtues are easily described in two words: "Innocent" and "Self-Depreciatory". But still, it seems like a fascinating read at first because I wonder if the author will show me how the heroine would turn the tables on the hero.
But alas, it soon turns out that He Said Yes is more of a rescue fantasy story where the heroine spends all her time protesting that really, she is not worthy of the hero, so no, no, no, they cannot be. Ms Waddell wants to show me that Eve has some spine, but she does that in all the wrong ways. Eve's show of will, if I can call it that, generally consists of her telling the hero, for example, she cannot stay in the house, but okay, she'll stay and redecorate the house instead. These types of scenes don't reveal anything of Eve's spine or willpower. If anything, it makes her look stupid, because only a stupid woman will assume that it is okay to play house with a horny hero while expecting the hero to play nice by her rules when it's clear that he won't. Equally annoying is Marshall's inexplicable attraction to Eve, which always inadvertently turns into a creepy soliloquoy about how Eve is Innocent and Isn't Innocence Wonderful. Eve is twenty-six. Since when is "innocent" complimentary when used to describe a twenty-six year old woman? More importantly, why can't Ms Waddell show me why Marshall will care for Eve, his pedophilic attraction to her innocence and beauty aside?
The author's characters can also behave inconsistently. Why would a supposedly virtuous vicar's daughter assume that she's not worthy of the love of a man who wants to just set her up as his mistress? Shouldn't she be thinking that she can do better than him? Likewise, why on earth would Marshall, after spending pages after pages drooling over Eve's aura of innocence, be surprised to learn that she's a virgin? The author, in stringing together clichéd psychology and motivations for her story, often seem to neglect to double-check these clichés to see if there is continuation and consistency in her story. Just because everyone else is using these clichés does not mean that any author can just chuck these clichés in her story without checking to see if these clichés come together in a logical manner.
The mistress and protector relationship is one of my favorite plots in a romance novel, because if the story is very well-done, the transformation of a relationship that begins solely for the sake of mercenary gains or convenience into a deeper passion often brings out strong and unexpected emotions that knock the main characters off their feet. But Patricia Waddell chooses to make He Said Yes all about tedious paeans to "innocence" starring a heroine that spends way too long insisting that she's not worthy of a hero. By the last page, He Said Yes has become so hopelessly mired in going through the familiar convolutedly illogical "I will be his mistress and love him but I will never tell him I love him because I know he cannot really love me, and besides, even if he does, I'm not worthy to keep him happy! Let those horrible society women, whom we both agree to dislike, keep him happy, because even if I know he dislikes those kind of women, I am sure he will want one of them to marry him and be the wife that he deserves!" nonsensical thingie of the heroine that it has no idea how stupid it comes off as.
No, no, no, no, no! There, I've said it.
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