Only a Mistress Will Do
It can be tempting, when you read hundreds of books a year, to confine yourself to picking up titles by authors whose work you know you are going to enjoy. But when it comes to reviewing, I make a point of sampling books by some of the newer names in historical romance, and sometimes I’m lucky and I find a new author to add to my ‘’must read’ list. Sadly, however, it’s been my experience that the ‘finds’ are in the minority.
Jenna Jaxon’s Only a Mistress Will Do is most definitely NOT a find; in fact I now wish I’d lost it before I even started. Its overly contrived plot relies heavily on coincidence and consists of one cliché after another; no sooner have our hero and heroine emerged unscathed from one melodramatic development than they are thrust into another. The protagonists are barely two-dimensional, their behaviour is inconsistent and frequently contradictory, and the big reveal before the halfway point is no surprise whatsoever. And worst of all, this is a ‘romance’ in which readers are repeatedly told the hero and heroine love each other but are never shown the relationship progressing. By a quarter of the way through the novel, we’re meant to believe they’re desperately in love, but there is no chemistry and no romantic development; honestly, had I not been reading the book for review, I’d have abandoned it well before the halfway point.
Violet Carlton has been left destitute following the recent death of her grandmother and has reached the point where the only thing of value she has left to sell is herself. Remembering the name of a brothel once mentioned by her deceased brother (who was killed more than a year earlier in a duel) Violet makes her way there and asks the madam to employ her. A lovely, well-bred virgin will fetch a high price, so the woman is quite happy to accommodate Violet, and five days later, she is sent her first client, the man who has bought and paid for her virtue.
Violet, expecting an elderly roué, is surprised when a darkly handsome young man arrives, but even as she finds herself responding to his caresses, she can’t forget how low she has fallen and is unable to stop herself from crying. Fortunately for her, this ‘Lord John’ is sympathetic to her plight and, on being told the truth behind her need to earn her living on her back, immediately makes plans to remove Violet from the brothel. He takes her to the house that was, until recently, occupied by his mistress, promising Violet that he expects nothing in return, and explaining that he knew her brother slightly and is doing his gentlemanly duty by rescuing a damsel in distress. He also tells her that he is betrothed and has no designs on her; he believes in fidelity in marriage, having seen his parents’ relationship torn asunder by his father’s unfaithfulness, and has no intention of walking the same path.
Tristan, Viscount Trevor, installs Violet in the house and offers to try to find her respectable employment as a companion or governess. Over the next few weeks, they spend time together in the evenings, talking and getting to know each other, until – bam! – they’re in love and desperately trying to hide it from each other. Tristan’s enquiries as to a situation for Violet are unsuccessful so he decides that there is only one other option; he must find her a husband. He can’t marry her himself, but he can at least make sure she weds someone who will treat her well. Although of course, he is eaten up with jealousy at the thought of her in another man’s arms, and practically snarls when any other man comes within three feet of her.
But naturally, the passion they feel for one another will not be contained and the inevitable happens – they shag each other’s brains out and Tristan decides that he cannot go through with his marriage to the sweet Miss Harper, whom he had only agreed to marry in order to fulfil his father’s dying wish of gaining possession of the land that marches alongside Tristan’s Yorkshire estate. But hold – Violet cannot allow him to go back on his word and besmirch his gentlemanly honour! No, he must not sacrifice his good name for her and taint any children they might have with scandal – he must marry his innocent debutante and be happy! Hmmm. ‘I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself’ is one of my least favourite tropes in the genre; it’s patronising and implies that the person making the sacrifice is not capable of making their own decisions. But there is worse to come, although anyone in possession of more than half a braincell will have already worked out exactly why Tristan has been prepared to go to such lengths to help a complete stranger. After that big reveal, Violet naturally goes from ‘woe is we, doomed to love but can’t be together’ to ‘OMG I will hate you forever!’.
I normally try to avoid spoilers when writing a review, but sometimes they’re unavoidable if one wants to give an accurate picture of exactly what is wrong with a book. Anyone who has made it to this point and is STILL thinking of reading this novel, look away now.
After the reveal, Violet runs back to the brothel where Tristan found her – and when he finds her there again, she’s just received proposal of marriage from one of his friends. I started to wonder if it was a bordello or a dating agency, because nobody in this book gets any action there! Then I was hit by a massive sense of déjà-vu when the prospective groom turns up the next morning to tell Violet he can’t marry her after all because of… er… another… er… thing. Or something. I never found out what. So. Bloke number 1 (Tristan) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t owing to another obligation. And bloke number 2 (Tristan’s friend) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t because… I’ve heard of authors recycling plots, but have never come across it in the same book!
Not content with repeating herself, Ms. Jaxon rummages around in her big ol’ bag of clichés in order to put Violet in yet another tricky situation before finally engineering the ending of Tristan’s betrothal and an HEA for this insipid and unengaging couple. Only a Mistress Will Do suffers from the cardinal sin of too much telling and not enough showing, and the author has thrown in far too many hackneyed plot devices and failed to develop the romance to even the most basic degree. Tristan is a walking erection around Violet; fire erupts at the apex of her thighs whenever he touches her (I think she should probably get some ointment for that!) … but exploding loins do not a romance make. This is the third book in a series, and if you want to subject yourself to it, it can be read as a standalone. But I really don’t recommend it.