A Season of Ruin
I enjoyed Anna Bradley’s début, A Wicked Way to Win an Earl last year, and in my review said:
“Her writing is deft and intelligent with a nice touch of humour, and she has taken a well-used plotline and made good use of it by peopling it with distinctive characters and strongly-written relationships.”
As a result, I was really looking forward to her follow up book, which was to pair off the hero’s roguish brother and the heroine’s rather uptight sister. Unfortunately, however, the good things I pointed out in my earlier review are largely absent here, making A Season of Ruin a big disappointment. Perhaps it’s my own fault for having expectations that were too high, or maybe it’s “second book syndrome”; but whatever the case, while Ms. Bradley’s writing is still strong, the plot is bland and predictable, the central characters are barely two-dimensional and rather dull, and the romance is not at all well-developed.
Robyn Sutherland (I kept having to remind myself he’s a bloke because Robyn is a girls’ name; his name is Robert – why not just use that?) is a rake of the first order and has no intention of being otherwise. He’s an unabashed hedonist, he’s unreliable and not one to keep his promises. Nobody expects much from him, and consequently, he doesn’t expect much from himself, and that suits him just fine. Or it did, until the evening he mistakenly kissed the hell out of his sister-in-law, Lily Somerset, in a scene which would undoubtedly win the award for the most uses of the word “tongue” in the history of romance novels.
Lily is determined that her life should be orderly and free from any emotional excesses like love or passion. After all, love only brings hurt, so it’s much safer to live life without it. She has set her sights on securing a marriage proposal from a handsome, rather dull gentleman, but her hopes are dashed after the gossip rags gleefully tout the tale of her secret assignation with a notorious rake. Lily is horrified. It’s true that Robyn kissed her, but it wasn’t her fault; he mistook her for his current lady-love in the dark and kissed her stupid before he realised who she was.
Robyn doesn’t see what all the fuss is about, but his sisters insist there is only one way to deal with the scandal he has created for Lily, which is to squire her about to all the scheduled events of the Season and brazen it out until the next scandal breaks and everyone turns their attention to that instead. Lily doesn’t want anything more to do with Robyn, but reluctantly agrees to the plan. Unfortunately, however, Robyn doesn’t agree to it, and doesn’t turn up to escort her anywhere. Lily is furious at him for causing her such problems and then for leaving her to face them alone and asks one of his friends to be her escort instead. When Robyn discovers this, in a fit of jealousy, he deliberately makes things worse by baiting some of the young ladies who are busily enjoying Lily’s discomfiture and then waltzing with her before she has been given permission. Yep, he’s a real prince among men.
Fortunately for Lily, however, the Deus ex machina is at hand in the form of her formidable grandmother who makes all the scandal go away, so the rest of the story can concentrate on Robyn’s inner fight between his desperation to get inside Lily’s knickers and his knowledge that he is so unworthy of her that the right thing to do would be to leave her alone.
For over the first half of the book, Robyn continues to do just as he wants without a care for anyone else. We’re supposed to believe that this is because he was such a big disappointment to his father that he decided he might as well just disappoint everyone, but that is really just mentioned in passing and never fully addressed. Much later in the book, Robyn and Alec (his older brother and hero of book one) discuss it briefly, but it’s still a woefully underdeveloped plot-point and provides no real explanation or justification for Robyn’s irresponsible behaviour.
Lily is just as under-developed as a character. I could understand her emotional issues as they related to the recent death of her parents in an accident, but there was also something thrown in about her getting lost in a maze when she was five, which was supposed to account for her desire for an unexciting, emotionless life. I know getting lost can be a traumatic experience for a child, but I didn’t see the correlation.
The romance is so unmemorable that I have little to say about it. There’s quite a lot of illicit touching and kissing going on, but romance? Not really; so much so that when the pair realises they are in love I thought I’d missed something. Whenever they are together they argue and there is no development of any mutual understanding or an actual relationship. Robyn goes from having hardly noticed Lily to having an almost constant hard-on for her within a very short space of time, but other than physical attraction, I didn’t see why they would be interested in each other given their diametrically opposed personalities. I couldn’t believe that there was anything more between them than lust on his side and infatuation on hers.
Which brings me to one of my Pet Peeves. Authors often – for some reason – choose to have their protagonists finally consummate their luuurve after one of them has been injured, and that’s what happens here. Robyn has been in a fight and has sustained a nasty gash to his forehead and several bruised, possibly broken ribs. Yet he is still well up for the rumpy-pumpy on offer from the suddenly no longer proper Lily, and able to shag divinely in spite of the fact of his injuries. Seriously? I bruised my ribs a couple of years ago (not in a brawl, I hasten to add) and could hardly move for a few days after. I get that whole sex and death (or near death) thing, I really do, but people doing the deed whilst seriously injured is not romantic or sexy, and every time I read it in a book I find myself thinking they need a bandage and bed rest, not all that thrusting, pumping and bouncing around!
You know those romance colouring books for adults? Well, A Season of Ruin felt like a colour-by-numbers romance novel. 1 = hero is a rake (I give the author props here for showing that Robyn really IS one!). 2 = heroine must maintain control by being very proper. 3 = hero has Daddy issues. 4 = heroine has abandonment issues. 5 = older lady battle-axe who is nothing of the kind… and so on.
If that’s your thing, then all well and good. But otherwise, I think you might enjoy a romance colouring book more than this. I’m hoping that Ms. Bradley’s next effort will see a return to the form she displayed in her début novel.