A Gentleman's Honor
The back cover blurb for Laurens’ latest has a list of bold print Headings: The Author, The Series, The Hero, The Heroine, and The Outcome, each followed by a brief, supposedly descriptive sentence. Though I’m sure the author and publisher intended the bullet points to grab their audience quickly, what it actually did was define exactly what is wrong with this book – uninteresting characters plugged into Laurens’ increasingly repetitive storytelling. Only the names have changed.
- The Series: The Bastion Club (as in the “last bastion”) made up of aristocratic gentlemen who were all spies during the war. What war? Doesn’t matter. They are honorable men who did a job because it was necessary. They never wanted the glory. They only wanted to serve their country, that and not trip over all the other honorable aristocrats running around France. They gather at their club to commiserate because they have to attend ton parties and they will have to eventually marry. Poor guys. Oh, how we feel for them.
- The Hero: Anthony Blake, Viscount Torrington. Like any good (and I use that word advisedly) Laurens hero, Tony is not going to marry. Not him. Oh wait, is that the beautiful Alicia Carrington he spots? Is she in some danger? She’s his. He’s not going to marry her, but since she’s a widow woman they can have an affair. She’s his. Okay, he’ll marry her. But he’ll not tell her that. Or that he loves her. Why? Well, because.
- The Heroine: Alicia poses as a widow so that she can sponsor her sister Adriana’s entrance into society, snare a wealthy husband for her, and thereby have someone to support the family. She claims to be a widow and hopes to carry it off because she hales from a remote area of England and no one knows her. What this reader wondered: if no one knows who she is, then how did she gain entry to all the aristocratic events? That’s never explained. Alicia and her family are received at all the best parties and balls. Lucky thing. Else how would she meet Tony over the dead body of a blackmailer? Or pretend to be a worldly widow who must act willing to have “almost” sex with Tony every ten pages or so? If she doesn’t, he might guess her secret. Oh, the horror! The complexity!
- The Outcome: Flat characters whose motivations shift haphazardly. A hero who is a caricature of Laurens’ earlier creations. He and every male he involves in the dangerous, confusing plot know better then the heroine in all matters. This male prerogative includes Alicia’s young, preteen brothers who are included in the hero’s decision making when the heroine is not. Also included: a danger plot that makes no sense and a villain who attempts to get Tony to drop matters, but does everything in his power to draw attention to his existence while trying to discredit Alicia (though he never bothers to visit her hometown and find out her secret). Finally, there’s the writing. I don’t remember Laurens’ always writing this way, but the overabundance of adjectives and purple prose was staggering, particularly given the frequency of the sex/love scenes. Titillation is all part of the game, but after the umpteenth episode of heavy petting not leading to sex, this was just boring.
I discovered Stephanie Laurens with The Devil’s Bride and what a joy that was. The book, though not wildly different then anything else at the time, was written with obvious energy and enjoyment. Sure the hero was thoroughly alpha, but he wasn’t brooding and dysfunctional because of a tortured past. He was a strong guy and a product of his time. And he was delightfully matched by an equally strong heroine. What a difference five years and a dozen books make. I certainly never thought I’d see the day where a Stephanie Laurens book would be nothing but a chore to read. Live and learn.