Back in the 90’s Stella Cameron used to be an author on my auto-buy list. I was a big fan of both her historical and contemporary novels and the unique voice that was very different in style from other authors I was reading at the time. That’s really changed in the past five years or so. After struggling to get through the first three books in her Mayfair Square series, I gave up. When the chance came to review About Adam, the latest in the series, I thought I’d give Cameron another shot – after all, a few years have passed and I’m always willing to be surprised. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
About Adam disappointed me for the same reasons the other books in this series did: Bland, sometimes caricature-like characterizations; awkward plot movement (though it’s a very busy plot); and ultimately uninspiring relationships. Some of the characters showed promise and spark, but overall it’s as if the whole book was whitewashed to soften the edges and take all the interesting facets away at the same time. With an unwieldy cast of characters crammed into its nearly 400 pages, (the principals from all previous series entrants play major roles) and a ghost-narrator who is singularly annoying and unnecessary, the focus of the novel shines awkwardly on the purported hero and heroine. The many and varied conflicts rarely ring true; it’s hard to know what to care about.
The major premise of this book is interesting in the abstract. In my romance reading experience it’s uncommon to have a novel begin with an acknowledgement from both the hero and heroine that they love each other and want to be together. However, the caveats begin immediately, at least for Adam Chillworth, our tormented artist hero. He loves Princess Desiree Etranger with all the passion in his creative soul, but he is equally as passionately convinced that he is not good enough for her. He’s too old for Desiree, he’s a commoner (but a not-really struggling artist), and he bears a secret shame (very overblown when we find out what it is).
Adam has forsaken his romantic love for Desiree and vows to be her good friend, to take care of her, help her, and never take advantage of his true feelings. He’s not as noble as he sounds, so his good intentions are mostly just that, but he genuinely regrets and mopes each time he expresses his full passion to Desiree (usually physically). His self-loathing quickly becomes tiresome, especially when Desiree keeps throwing herself at him.
Desiree is crystal clear about her feelings and intentions. A 20-year-old Princess who behaves at times with the impetuous, coy, and angst-ridden attitude of an average spoiled 14-year-old, Desiree wants Adam. She wants him for her husband, she doesn’t care about raising their family in the attic garret he calls home, and she doesn’t care about her brother’s grand plans for an advantageous match. In fact, she doesn’t really care how anyone else feels about the situation: She wants Adam, so Adam she shall have.
Desiree reminded me in some scenes of the girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who ate the blueberry candy that hadn’t been fully tested yet. “I want what I want, and damn the consequences!” Well, all right then, Smurf girl. Desiree is appealing in may ways – her frankness is a refreshing change from missish heroines – but her single-minded dedication to the perfection of their love is frankly odd, and progresses unevenly.
The early part of the book is devoted to many improbable scenes of Desiree and Adam thrown together where they can each be tempted by their desire for each other, with differing results. We also spend too much time with the other members of the cast as they hold impromptu summits to share their views of the Desiree/Adam situation and plan strategy for how best they think it should be resolved. In spite of the basic likability of most of the characters, it’s all quite dull, because it’s so obvious that Desiree and Adam want to be together and will somehow find a way to convince themselves, and everyone else, that being together is the right thing to do. And so they do, but not without any number of false starts, missteps, and histrionics (and not just from the women!) along the way.
There are a multitude of sub-plots involving Adam’s complicated family, the other residents of Mayfair Square, and Desire’s over-protective brother and mysterious (and overzealous) admirer. Collectively these sub-plots are not very interesting or suspenseful, they’re mostly just confusing, as in “why am I supposed to care about this?” I guessed the identity of the bad guy early on and certain other plot “surprises” also telegraphed themselves well in advance. The HEA itself was so patently obvious that I was never able to get very excited about the journey.
I think this book could have been tightened by a good number of pages and it would have been the better for it. The obnoxious ghost-narrator gimmick – the flimsy and basically unnecessary tie-in between all the novels – is the ghost of 7 Mayfair Square and his mission to remove all these people from the house he built would be the first thing to go if I had my way. I really have no idea what we’re supposed to get from his periodic musings during the action. I only skimmed most of his entries after a while, because I found them so irritating.
For fans of the Mayfair Square series, About Adam will give you lots of time to spend with the pleasant characters you met in the previous novels. Unfortunately, that time with them, along with the multiple sub-plots, takes away from the passionate central pair in this novel, and substantially lessens the impact of their very hectic but somehow unaffecting path to HEA.