Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When The Other Woman Meets Her Match

It's fairly well documented on this blog that I'm past "over" the Evil Ex-Mistress trope in Romance Novel Land.  Chalk it up to being bitten one too many times with the heavy-handed "message" that Women Who Aren't Virgins And Enjoy Sex = Evil Skank and Pure As The Driven Snow = Heroine.  Luckily this claptrap isn't quite as prevalent in the genre today as it was, say, 20 years ago - but any sort of whiff of it tends to get my hackles up.  It was part of the reason why Vanessa Kelly's last book, Sex And The Single Earl didn't light my personal world on fire.  But with her latest release, My Favorite Countess, Kelly takes the Evil Ex-Mistress from that earlier book and makes her the heroine in this story.  And yes gentle blog reader, I am a total sucker for the villain being the hero (or heroine, as it were) in their own story.

Bathsheba had a mini-celebration the day her husband died.  Unfortunately, while his death bought her freedom, it also heaped more responsibility on her shoulders.  Turns out she's broke.  She's held it together by taking a few lovers, who were generous with gifts, but she's currently unattached.  The only way she sees to pull herself out of this mess is to marry again.  Someone wealthy and who won't annoy the hell out of her.

Temporarily killing time in Yorkshire (and loathing it), she's at a tiresome dinner party when she meets Dr. John Blackmore.  Needless to say sparks fly, and the attraction is most unwelcome.  The last time a man made Bathsheba feel this way she married him, and that's one disaster she has no desire to repeat.  Besides, she needs to marry money before the ton finds out just how broke she is, and a mere doctor is not going to cut the mustard.

For his part, John is married to his work.  In today's terminology, he's an OB/GYN - dedicating himself to helping the poorest of the poor, which raises a few eyebrows at the hospital.  He's not a terribly popular fellow, and after a house call goes very badly, he decides to get away with a short stay in the country.  Bathsheba intrigues him no end.  She's drop dead beautiful, but she also has the tongue of a viper.  However John sees past that, and puts on the full court press.

John is everything romance readers have come to expect, and want, in their heroes.  He's noble, caring, hardworking, handsome, charming and with just the right amount of baggage.  Readers will love him by the close of the first chapter.  I suspect where the issue is going to lie is with our heroine.  I'll be blunt, Bathsheba is a bitchy snob.  Some are going to have a hard time looking past that.  However, I was able to.  Mostly because the author does a good job of selling me on the idea that Bathsheba's bitchiness is part of a defense mechanism.  Also, she's a flippin' Countess.  Of course she's snobby!  Of course she's concerned about appearances!  Of course she's concerned about her station and propriety!  But readers who like their heroines draped in costume, and behaving like someone right out of the 21st century are likely not going to be all that enthralled.  I will admit, as much as I did enjoy her characterization, she's not always the easiest woman to "like."

The romance here works it's way through at a natural clip, and there's just enough external conflict to keep the plot humming along.  I did feel that there were moments during the final chapters that bordered on melodramatic, and some of the love scenes were a bit too over-wrought for my tastes - but all in all, I rather enjoyed this story.  There was a nice mix of internal and external conflict, John is an upstanding and noble hero in the most traditional sense, and Bathsheba is salty enough to add just the right amount of spice to the occasion.  The author tells the story well, and does a good job of keeping readers up to speed who might be totally unaware that Bathsheba was evil in a previous book.  And for those of us who are well aware?  It was great fun to read about the real woman hiding behind the curtain.  Also, a Regency English hero who isn't a bloody Duke?  Oh happy day indeed.

Final Grade = B-


senetra said...

You sold me!

Anonymous said...

JanetW: you sold me too! Off to buy ...

Wendy said...

As long as I've been spewing forth my opinion about books online, I still get nervous when someone tells me they're going to try a book because I recommended it.

I hope this one works well for both of you!

nath said...

I think if it's well-written, then readers can see past the bitchiness of a character, especially if there's a reason for it. The problem is most of the time, authors don't delve deep enough ^_^;

Wendy said...

Nath: The author was able to convince me here that the heroine's bitchiness was part of a defense mechanism. So, it worked for me in this instance.