Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady
On page 115, the hero asks the heroine’s opinion of his sketch. She gazes at it and says, “It is good. For a sketch….but it has no emotion.”
I could not have summed it up better myself.
It has been two years since Jack Vernon returned from the Battle of Badajoz, and his artistic career just took a permanent turn for the better with his acceptance into the Royal Academy. His biggest commission yet, however, sticks in his craw: Lord Tranville, patron of the arts, wants him to paint the theatre’s newest starlet, Ariana Blane. The problem is that his mother is Tranville’s mistress, and Jack refuses to paint a woman who is probably his latest bird. But his mother begs him to accept the commission knowing that he needs it, so Jack reluctantly meets Ariana.
Having lived a life behind the curtains with a man-hungry actress mother, Ariana knows how to handle men, and Tranville’s advances have her gagging rather than swooning. But this brooding ex-soldier is a different prospect, and she falls for Jack’s depth of emotion as evidenced in his paintings. Jack has very few doubts that Ariana is the One, but Tranville’s shadow looms over their relationship and his family.
Let me first say there’s nothing outrageously wrong about this book, and quite a bit that is good, particularly in the author’s carefully realistic touches. Ms. Gaston refuses to demonize Lord Tranville, although he is a suitably creepy character, and she doesn’t victimize Jack’s mother, who happens to be one of those foolish women who can’t help lovin’ dat man of hers. Tranville’s machinations make the book rather gloomy, and some might complain that he doesn’t get a proper comeuppance, but Tranville is not evil – he’s just arrogant, egotistical, selfish, and manipulative. I also liked the battle scenes and Jack’s memories of war; the descriptions are frightening, vivid, and gripping.
But the fact that I haven’t yet discussed the main characters is a good indication of the book’s chief issues. Jack and Ariana are solid but boring characters, and I felt incredibly detached from their romance. Part of the problem is that their lives and conversations revolve around Tranville and, even though their attraction is believably established from the beginning, there is little development on the road to love. Their romance didn’t make me feel a thing and, considering this is a romance novel published by the Grand Publisher of Romance, that’s not a good sign.
I could nitpick further about some lopsided or undeveloped ideas, or about the possible misogynistic connotations one could read in the double whammy of foolish mothers. But as far as I’m concerned, a romance novel without a strong central romance doesn’t work despite all the positives.
I live in Seattle, Washington and work as a legal assistant. I remember learning to read (comic strips) at a young age and nowadays try to read about 5-6 books a week. I love to travel, especially to Europe, and enjoy exploring smaller towns off the tourist track though London is my favorite city in the world.