I really wanted to like Rebel Baron. It’s got a beefcake cover (if you’re going riding in Victorian England, you might as well leave your shirt unbuttoned, right?), but I noticed early on that the author had researched the period and knew her stuff. That’s something I always admire in a romance. Unfortunately, the book bored me to tears. My first sign that I was truly bored came when I lost the book for a while and had to read something else. I ended up picking up my book club book, which was about the dangers of smallpox – something that had never particularly interested me. Compared to Rebel Baron, it was fascinating, so I kept on reading it even after I’d found Henke’s latest. Then, having finished said smallpox book, I turned again to Rebel Baron – and turned away, often. I kept finding things I wanted to do other than read it. Like catching up on ‘Net surfing, reading magazines, and (at one low point) mopping my kitchen floor.
Brandon Caruthers owned a beautiful home in Kentucky, but fought on the losing side of the Civil War. He returns home to find his plantation in ruins and is unable to pay the back taxes. Providentially, he inherits the title of Baron Rushcroft. He goes off to England with two beloved servants and some valuable horses, only to find that his English estate is just about as impoverished as his American one. Miranda Auburn, widow of a wealthy industrialist, spies Brandon at a party and decides he just might be perfect for her daughter Lorilee (Lori). Miranda has plenty of money and would love to see her daughter marry a titled gentleman. She happens to own a bank, and when Brandon approaches her for a loan to rebuild his estate, she tells him she will only consider his loan if he courts her daughter. Brandon is not particularly wild about this manipulation, but in desperation he agrees to meet Lori and see if they might suit.
He makes a half-hearted effort at courtship, but Brandon soon realizes that Lori isn’t the one to whom he’s attracted. To paraphrase Fountains of Wayne, Lori’s mom has got it goin’ on. Brandon is thirty, and he feels like he has much more in common with the 36 year old Miranda than the 18 year old Lori. Miranda is a sexy, confident businesswoman with firm opinions on politics and a sharp intellect. And she has gorgeous red hair.
The whole mom/daughter/baron love triangle might have an ick factor for some, but I wasn’t all that bothered by it, mostly because Lori realizes early on that she’s not interested. She tries to encourage her mom to give into her feelings of passion. Miranda will not hear of it. She’s too old, and she doesn’t want to marry again. And that’s where the book really lost me, because that’s all the rest of the book is. Oh, there’s a lame plot about someone who wants to kill Miranda, possible danger from cut throats and carriage accidents, blah blah blah. But the main gist of the plot goes like this:
“Oh no! I’m attracted to my daughter’s suitor!”
(Several pages of uninteresting parties, etc.)
“Wow, Brandon’s hot, but I shouldn’t be thinking that. He’s going to be my son in law.”
(more filler plot, attempts on Miranda’s life)
“I love Brandon! Too bad he’s going to marry my daughter.”
(Final, hard-to-believe attempt to kill Miranda by central casting villains)
“Sigh. I had the only orgasm of my life with Brandon. Too bad I can never marry him.”
This mind-numbing cycle ends two pages before the book does, which is when Miranda finally decides she can marry Brandon. This is long after everyone else in the book, including Brandon, his servants, Miranda’s servants, Lori, and likely passers-by on the street, have all decided that marrying Brandon would be a good, happy thing. I don’t know why any of them put up with her, and I can’t imagine her behavior appealing to many modern readers (unless they really enjoy overly self-sacrificing heroines).
Henke’s been writing for some time. According to the inside cover blurb, she just recently got a computer and stopped writing her books in long-hand. The writing is a little old-fashioned. Sometimes, that’s okay; her attention to historical detail is thorough, and her book has a broad, epic quality somewhat lacking in recent romances. However, the love scenes are equally antiquated and ought to be relegated to a time capsule. I couldn’t help snickering when I read sentences like “Brand’s staff jutted from the dark gold thicket at his groin as if possessing a life of its own.” I associate the word “thicket” with one name: Bambi. I doubt this is what the author had in mind. Similarly, the use of the word “pelt” to describe Brandon’s chest hair conjured up visions of other woodland creatures. Minks. Beavers. Rabbits, maybe.
Had he been paired with someone other than the tiresome Miranda, Brandon might actually have been interesting. He’s a nice enough guy, and he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself, even though he’s had a rough go of it. But the fact is, he is with Miranda, at least for two pages at the end of the book. All in all, it’s just not much of a romantic tale.