Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pleasantville

I originally bought Beauty And The Baron by Deborah Hale because I'm a sucker for the "Beauty And The Beast" storyline. Human beings have a great capacity for "love." Whether you are short, tall, fat, skinny, ugly, beautiful - everyone can fall in love. Which might be why I get annoyed with English historical romances so much. I'm sorry, while they controlled a great many things, the privileged didn't hold the market share on falling in love. I'm sure butlers and scullery maids fell in love all the time! However, you'd never know it by picking up a romance novel set in 19th century England.

Ahem, anyway....

Beauty and the Baron takes place in the English countryside several years after Waterloo. Lord Lucius Daventry came home from battle a changed man. Once a handsome rake, he now has facial scars and hides behind a mask. He lurks on his grandfather's estate, only venturing out at night to do God only knows what. This leads to the locals calling him "Lord Lucifer" behind his back (of course they do, it was either that or the Devil Baron). While he's been wallowing, his beloved grandfather has befriended Miss Angela Lacewood, a local girl who has a habit of adopting neglected strays. However, now his grandfather is ill, and the doctor believes he only has three months to live. Lucius wants to make his last days happy, and since the old coot keeps trying to play matchmaker, he thinks a "pretend" engagement will do the trick. He proposes the idea for Angela, who at first balks. But Lucius sweetens the pot by offering to buy her brother's commission to India, plus she really does care for his grandfather quite a bit. She agrees, and the two decide that she will break their engagement after the old man passes. The scandal will be lessened if she's the one who breaks it off.

The best way to describe this story is pleasant. It's an easy read, unoffensive, and didn't illicit any strong emotions. That's good, because I didn't hate it. It's bad because it didn't inspire much in me outside of "pleasantness." It's an OK read that didn't get my heart thumping and travels along at an leisurely pace. It sat smack dab in the middle of "average" territory for the majority of the book.

Then Chapter 17 comes along, and I start to see some shine to the story. Angela has come to Lucius' estate and he's trying to convince her that the time has come to end their sham engagement. There's a fabulous exchange between the two characters, and a "spark" to the story finally makes enough of an appearance to ramp up my "average" grade to B- territory.
"I can't explain it, but I have a feeling it's different with you. If I let you go, I may never get you back. Perhaps if I'm patient, you'll come to see that my feelings for you aren't the maiden's daydream you believe them to be. And perhaps you'll come to see that your feelings for me are stronger than you think."
To me that's just perfect. One or two more chapters to wrap it up, and I would have left this story satisfied. Unfortunately, the author continues to write and we get 50 more pages and a slightly bizarre Cyrano de Bergerac storyline. It just seemed odd and tacked on. I tend to think of Cyrano as a farcical storyline, while Beauty and the Beast just, well, isn't. It just seemed out of place for this story. And so goes my elevated B- grade, back down to merely average. Oh well.

Beauty And The Baron is pleasant enough fare, but that's all it is. I didn't hate it, which is good, but it also means I have no burning desire to run out and snap up Hale's backlist. That's not so good.

Final Grade = C

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