Flight of Fancy
Tracy Cozzens’ latest release kicks off a new series called American Heiresses, which is about four sisters looking for husbands in the late 19th Century. Unfortunately, it could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. Flight Of Fancy features a plot driven entirely by inconsistency and misunderstanding, peopled by not-particularly-likable characters, and set against a decidedly wallpapered background.
Hannah Carrington is the renegade oldest daughter. Interested only in science and knowledge, she detests parties, fancy dresses, and the types of fripperies associated with both. She couldn’t care less about her reputation or her prospects, much to her mother’s dismay. When Mrs. Carrington informs Hannah that the two of them, along with younger, all-that-is-good-and-wonderful sister Lily, will be going to Paris to be clothed by a famous designer, Hannah is put out. But then she realizes that the World’s Fair will conveniently be held while they are there, and promptly changes her mind.
Once in Paris, Hannah slips away at the first opportunity to test one of her experiments from the newly-built Eiffel Tower. On the way, she meets an unpleasant but striking Englishman, who is also there to conduct an experiment. When both are caught by the police, they find themselves in adjoining jail cells. They fall into conversation, and the Englishman quickly realize they both have problems: He needs a monetary source to fund his experiments, she needs someone to save her reputation (you know, the one she couldn’t care less about). He proposes marriage to solve both their troubles – and she still doesn’t even know his name. After he finally introduces himself as Benjamin Ramsey, Earl of Sheffield, she agrees to bind herself to a man she knows nothing about, for life. Apparently her reputation is important after all.
Thus begins a story which unfortunately doesn’t get any less contrived as it continues. They go into their arranged marriage with open eyes; he needs her dowry, she needs his good name and title. But even before they get to the ceremony (less than a week later), she finds herself resenting his motive of marrying her for money. And then they play the ever-popular “he/she clearly must not want/love me despite all evidence to the contrary” misunderstanding game – for close to 250 pages. Meanwhile, they stumble through the remainder of the plot making (as students of scientific thought and logic, you understand) assumptions and decisions that a sane person wouldn’t make in a drunken haze.
Unfortunately, their thoughts and actions, totally inconsistent as they are, define these generally unpleasant characters. Hannah, for all her supposed intelligence, doesn’t bother to hire more help than the four surly and uncooperative servants that Benjamin retains. It doesn’t seem to matter that they need more help and have more than enough money. Instead, Hannah waits to do so until after a truly disastrous and humiliating dinner party, which serves little other purpose than to act as the most excruciating scene in an already painful read. She apparently prefers to suffer in silence, despite being described as independent and assertive.
Benjamin is no Einstein either, even though we’re constantly told how brilliant he is (a true leader in his field!). Instead, we get to see the idiot who refuses to let Hannah aid him in his lab, despite her pleas and research on his work, and then a few pages later is shocked to learn that she has an interest in his field. This same genius also takes every opportunity to misunderstand his bride and her motives. Neither Hannah nor Benjamin could lead the way out of a paper bag and we’re supposed to believe they’re forerunners in the study of flight.
And speaking of believability, well, there is none. On top of such timely phrasings as the hero addressing his fellow nobleman as “old buddy”, and speaking most presciently of “rocketships” a good 35 years before the invention of the jet engine, we have a real red flag to anyone who’s ever actually experienced sex before. Benjamin is not exactly your Duke of Slut kind of guy. He charmingly refers to sex as “an irritating itch to be scratched,” and has, in fact, only had experience with prostitutes. Yet we’re really supposed to believe that he brings our virginal heroine to orgasm not once, but twice during their very first encounter? Um, get real.
All in all, there wasn’t anything notable to redeem this story or the characters who inhabit it. While Lily actually seems to be a likable character, I have my doubts that the next in this series (which will focus on her) will be any better. But I could be wrong. After all, Cozzens has been awarded B level grades here four times in the past, so maybe this is just a fluke. We can only hope.