by Victoria Alexander, historical (2005)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-059319-9
When We Meet Again is quite an interesting book because the main characters are far more superior than the predictable, cliché-crippled plot they are trapped in, a plot that is so heavily bogged down by cast appearances from and inferences to the nine previous books in the author's Effington family series. I can't help thinking that this would have been a better book if the author hasn't tried so hard to package it as part of her Victoria Alexander's Happy Meal (Collect All Ten - Or Twenty - Today) bonanza.
Four years ago, our latest Effington heroine Pamela slept with Prince Alexei of Avalonia. Whoa, a prince! You go, gal! Alas, our effing (ahem) heroine isn't some Melania Trump type as much as she is more like the woman that singer Charlene was singing about in her cheese-tastic song I've Never Been To Me, where Pamela, having been seduced, ruined, and humiliated by some jerk seven years ago, tours Europe in a determination to live life by her own terms. Alas, that also means that she is lonely, blah blah blah, altogether now: "I've been to the Nice and the island of Greece - but I've never to meeeeeee!"
Prince Alexei can never forget that masked woman he shagged at a masked ball so when circumstances end up with him and Pamela indulging in a Fake Engagement plan for their own mutual benefits, sparks fly. He will get to stay in London at her place (the now-exiled Prince has some problems getting his funds released by the bank) and she, when he breaks off the engagement, will get men fighting to get her as their wife. Hmm, I never knew cast-offs of royalties are so in demand. Anyway, Pamela gives the obligatory "But I want to live on my own terms!" protests but she caves in to the fake engagement eventually.
I'm sure everyone can guess more or less where the story is heading. There are very little surprises in this story, and if "Avon is the Haven of Clichés!" thing isn't such a cliché in itself, I would have said something to that effect here. But I really like Pamela and Alexei, whose relationship takes place in a reasonable and mature manner, thanks to both characters being intelligent and level-headed when it comes to matters of the heart. Also, Alexei's cousin Valentina, a villainess who claims to be reformed (hah), is an interesting show-stealer. If I haven't seen the effect of an author running a family straight into six feet into the ground by churning out books after books whose selling point seems to be that the book features a character seen in a previous book, I may be moved to wonder whether she will be getting some decent story of her own.
But these interesting and likable characters are nearly lost in a large cast of previously-seens crowding the pages. Their actions also become more and more predictable as the author makes them follow the Behavioral Guidebook of Typical Romance Novel Characters to a tee. Also, there are so many off-hand references to previous books featuring those effing Effingtons that they serve to distract me from the story. It is one thing if these characters have roles to play in the story but they don't. They are merely advertisements for those other books. The whole sequelitis syndrome feels so calculated in this book, as if the author has only come up with half a story and pad the other half with fillers that have no purpose other than to remind me that there are more books out there by this author that I must buy.
Therefore, it is a shame that Pamela and Alexei, especially Pamela who is a pretty smart heroine - a rarity, it seems, in romance novels nowadays - end up trapped in such a predictable, uninspired, and padded plot. Instead of trying to develop them into something memorable, the author instead chooses to make her characters follow a standard set of action in a very formulaic plot to the bitter finish. Sigh.
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