It Takes a Hero
2004 has been a wonderful reading year for me – until now. I will always remember It Takes a Hero by Elizabeth Boyle as the book that killed my winning streak.
Regency society is in an uproar due to a popular series of novels starring an intrepid heroine, Miss Darby. It seems that Miss Darby is so very independent that she has infected her readers with her spirit, and young ladies everywhere are refusing to marry (“The Marriage Mart had been declared officially closed for the Season,” we are told, as though it were an actual shop). Rafe Danvers is the younger son of a noble but infamous family. He makes a living as a sort of private detective and problem-solver. He is hired by Lady Tottley, the mother of one of the intransigent maidens, to find the author of the Miss Darby books and make her stop writing. In return for this service, Rafe will receive an estate called Battlesfield Park. In order to find the mysterious author, he sets aside the other case he’s working on – the murder of a man named Sir Codlin.
Rafe tracks the author to the village of Bramley Hollow and encounters Rebecca Tate, a beautiful, penniless bluestocking. Rebecca shows no signs of being influenced by Rafe’s legendary handsomeness and charm (although she is). Soon Rafe suspects that Rebecca is his quarry – as did I, from the very first moment I saw her.
This book made me roll my eyes so often I practically gave myself a headache. Take, for instance, all the big coincidences. Rebecca, the author of the Miss Darby books, is the first person Rafe meets in Bramley Hollow. Battlesfield Park, the estate Rafe will earn if he finds the author, also happens to be in Bramley Hollow. Then we find out that Battlesfield Park, by a coincidence too enormous to believe, was once Rebecca’s family home. Oh, and the other case that Rafe is also investigating, the murder of Sir Codlin? Rebecca is mixed up in that, too. Some might see all this as the Hand of Fate working to bring two people together; I saw it as a string of howling plot contrivances.
Another problem is the author’s writing style, which drove me crazy. Just to give you a small taste, here’s the author’s first description of Rafe:
His dark mien and rakishly foreign good looks spoke of thousands of years of Spanish nobility – hawkish, penetrating eyes, a jaw line hammered and tempered from a Castilian forge, and a masculine fire that emanated from him like the unforgiving Iberian sun. Since his return from the Peninsular wars, there hadn’t been a happily married, matronly, or thankfully widowed woman in London who hadn’t wondered what it would be like to bask beneath his raw, untamed heat, strip the unfashionable clothes from his muscled body and see just how unacceptable Rafe Danvers could be.
Oh my God, is it the romance novel parody I wrote when I was in high school, come back to haunt me? No, that’s just the way this author writes, and the whole book goes kind of like that. Later, when Rafe kicks in a door, Rebecca quivers with lust, thinking, (italics by Boyle)“What would it be like to have a man possess her with that same undeniable passion?” And later still, “The man’s utter mien spoke of unforgiving strength and competence.” What do you suppose an “utter mien” is?
Rebecca is by far the nicer of our two protagonists – an intelligent and practical woman with a sense of humor who manages to keep a roof over the head of herself and her dotty uncle. he doesn’t let Rafe push her around. It was hard for me to understand why she fell for Rafe, though – aside from the fact that he emanates Iberian sunshine, there’s just not much to him. Though I liked the heroine, I didn’t really care how they managed to overcome the obstacles between them. One of the conflicts is that Rafe doesn’t have enough money to marry, and the way the author resolves this plot point is one of the lamest things I have ever read – but to say more would constitute a spoiler. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
For once, the suspense subplot is actually a bit more interesting than the romance. It involves lots of skullduggery and an Indian ruby the size of a hen’s egg. It’s ridiculous, of course, but it led to an interesting revelation about Rebecca’s dotty uncle and it made for a nice change of pace from the tedious romance.
There are probably readers who will enjoy this book, relishing it as a madcap comedy. Elizabeth Boyle has gotten some excellent grades from AAR in the past, and no doubt some will enjoy this book more than I did. I will give the author credit: she does not take herself too seriously, and the novel’s lighthearted spirit saves it from catastrophe. But I can’t recommend it. It took me two weeks to drag myself through the tiresome mess that is It Takes a Hero, and I was glad when it was over.
|Review Date:||April 13, 2004|
|Book Type:||European Historical Romance|