A Reckless Encounter
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I picked up A Reckless Encounter by Rosemary Rogers, one of the queens of seventies-style epic romance. Certainly I didn’t expect it to be so boring. Reading this book was about as exciting as watching an undubbed foreign film: I could see what the characters are doing, but I couldn’t quite understand their reasons.
Celia Sinclair’s mother, an exiled French noblewoman living in Virginia, was raped and murdered by British viscount Lord Northington when Celia was twelve. Since that time, Celia has lived for vengeance. Now twenty-two, Celia travels to England to live with her godmother. She plans to expose Lord Northington as the villain he is. Celia’s godmother, Lady Leverton, eagerly launches Celia into society, introducing her to Colter Hampton, Lord Northington. But Colter is unexpectedly young and studly – he is the son of the rapist Celia seeks, who is now the Earl of Moreland.
Celia soon realizes that British society is not about to turn against an earl, just because a pretty American woman denounces him. So she decides to get to the earl through his son, Colter. She flirts with him and tells Lady Leverton that she intends to seduce him into proposing to her. Why? I have no idea. If I wanted to get vengeance on someone who raped my mother, becoming his daughter-in-law would not be on my list of priorities. Celia’s exact plans are never revealed.
Colter, who is the most Neanderthal Regency rake I’ve ever read about, responds to Celia’s flirtatious behavior by dragging her off onto terraces and into dark corners as often as possible, kissing her and charming her with such sweet nothings as this: “It’s time to give you what you’ve been so prettily asking for.” He invites Celia, Lady Leverton, and a few throw-away secondary characters to a house party, where at the first opportunity he pounces on Celia and has sex with her. There’s one of those scenes in which the hero demands to know why the heroine didn’t tell him that she’s a virgin. I don’t know why he thought she wasn’t a virgin.
Rogers spends so little time on character development that the characters’ actions frequently don’t make that much sense. There’s one point where Coulter, ever the charmer, tells Celia, “You move as stiff and wooden as a puppet jerked by strings.” That ungrammatical assessment is true of both of them, throughout the novel – their actions were entirely driven by the needs of the plot. Half the time they seemed to have no reasons at all for the things they do.
There’s also a suspense plot here. Coulter is an agent for the government, involved in exposing and foiling a violent revolutionary conspiracy. The author’s command of this historical period is admirable, as is her understanding of the issues that caused civil unrest in England; but she fails to make them come alive at all. The point of it all is that there are three different sets of bad guys (four if you count Coulter’s jealous ex-mistress) who for various reasons want to harm Celia. There’s one scene in which a character gives a long, convoluted, and totally confusing explanation that was supposed to make me understand the motivations of the chief villain – I’m still a little unclear on what that was all about.
The upshot is, Coulter spectacularly fails to protect Celia several times. She keeps being kidnapped and assaulted by scoundrels, even though Coulter is exerting his most dictatorial efforts to keep her safe (often saying to her things like “Do as I ask without argument” and “I know it’s a lot to expect you to trust me, but you really don’t have any choice right now.”) It actually gets kind of funny towards the end of the book, though I doubt humor was the author’s intention.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like A Reckless Encounter, but I thought at least that it would be dramatic. It was dull instead, involving the lifeless actions of a pair of characters so two-dimensional they would blow away in a strong wind. Rogers has a good grip on the politics and social issues of nineteenth-century England. It’s too bad she didn’t use it to create an interesting and exciting story.