Return of the Chauffeur's Son
I picked up this book because it’s based on the movie Sabrina, and I thought it would be fun to see what a contemporary m/m romance did with the plot. But there’s creative homage and there’s dull imitation, and unfortunately, Return of the Chauffeur’s Son falls into the latter category.
The plot begins with Luca McGrath’s arriving at the estate of the wealthy Armstrong family to become the sous chef at a swanky local restaurant. The son of the Armstrong family chauffeur, Luca grew up on the estate, where he spent time with James (the cute younger son) and Dylan (the serious older son). As a teenager, Luca had a massive crush on James. Upon Luca’s return, he finds that James is engaged to a nice woman (Nila), but that James wants to experiment with his sexuality a bit. James pursues Luca, re-igniting Luca’s lifelong crush.
James’ older brother Dylan becomes concerned that his little brother will lose Nila, a fiancée whom he loves, to this experiment, breaking Luca’s heart in the process and ruining Dylan’s business deal with Nila’s company. Meanwhile, Dylan finds Luca extremely attractive. Dylan starts spending time with Luca, and they find themselves drawn to one another. Luca eventually recognizes that James isn’t really bisexual so much as experimenting and that he (Luca) is developing a more genuine attraction to Dylan. (It helps that Dylan, unlike James, really is gay.)
Meanwhile, pressure mounts on Luca to win an important regional culinary competition. If he doesn’t, he might lose his job. This aspect of the plot becomes more important as Luca faces deceptive sous chefs and possible culinary espionage, and the central question turns to whether or not he will keep his job in California.
The writing is fun and polished, and the chemistry between Dylan and Luca is fun to read. I appreciate Luca’s objection to being ‘won’ by the brother who likes him most. The brothers keep fighting over which one deserves Luca’s affection, and the moment when Luca calls both brothers on their bad behavior gives him a (rare) moment of depth. But the plot moves away from that conflict fairly quickly and focuses on Luca’s keeping his job and winning the culinary competition, a plot device that has little to do with developing the romance and feels tacked on.
Good points having been acknowledged, I can’t say that this book did much for me. The main characters fall flat. Take Dylan, for example. He can’t grow as a character because he starts out with nowhere to go. The book wants to keep to the Sabrina plot, but in that story, the older brother starts out with serious personality flaws. He begins his pursuit of Sabrina entirely to preserve a business deal, a bad decision that offers plenty of room for personal growth. He can’t get closer to his love interest without conflict because he has to keep lying to her, but he needs her, and he needs to become a decent human being, and that conflict moves the character and the plot in interesting directions.
This novel, however, wants a more likeable hero, so it makes Dylan a perfectly warm, decent person from the beginning who dates Luca because he finds Luca attractive. It removes the character’s central conflict and motivation, and it doesn’t replace that conflict with anything else. As a result, Dylan doesn’t grow or change at all over the course of the story. Also, because of this change, the plot makes considerably less sense than it otherwise would. Since James’ interest in Luca is so insubstantial, there’s no real reason that Dylan can’t just date Luca because they like each other.
And why all the fuss about Luca himelf? He’s good-looking, but there’s not a lot of substance to him. He’s a cocky, talented young chef – and that’s about it. He doesn’t change or grow much beyond getting over James, and that really has more to do with James’ being straight than with Luca’s growing up. The tone of the book is light, and that’s fine, but it should still have some substance. Luca never examines potentially complex choices, though the book gives him opportunities to do so, and the character doesn’t really get off the ground for that reason.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the relationship between Dylan and Luca comes off as too shallow for me to care much about it. Each thinks the other is hot, and they have good chemistry. So far, so good. But they don’t really get to know much about each other. We don’t see that they share values or interests or anything beyond basic attraction. We see repeatedly that Dylan really likes doing nice things for Luca, and that’s fun and sexy, but I needed more before I could care whether or not they made it.
Return of the Chauffeur’s Son is fun in places, but overall, it’s too shallow to be interesting. I might check out other works by this author, since her writing style is entertaining, but I found this book too insubstantial to be a particularly fun read.
~ Emily Marsh