Scandal of the Black Rose
I think I’ve hit the wall. The wall built of piles and piles of European Historicals featuring plucky heroines and heroes who’ve worked for the crown. The wall of books that star Regency ingénues who are as far from Austen’s Lizzie and Jane as characters can be. Heroines who engage in sexual behavior at the drop of a hat or the appearance of the hot hero. Up until now I’ve read them in the hopes of finding that spark, that something that indicated a new author to watch or maybe, if I’m behind the curve, to glom. Those hopes haven’t been fulfilled in a long time. My new rule: Stick to the authors who work in this subgenre and go cold turkey on the new ones.
New to me Debra Mullins’ (she was first published in 1999) latest falls in the middling range. There’s nothing horrendously bad here but there’s nothing terribly original either. Our plucky heroine is Anna Rosewood. For most of her life she’s known that she’s meant to marry the Earl of Haverford. Lately, though, all Anna can think of is finding the people responsible for the death of her twin brother. Her only clue is a picture of a black rose with a sword through it. Determined to find the killers, Anna follows a clue while at Vauxhall and is mistaken for a light skirt. Though dismayed to be accosted, Anna can’t help but be attracted to the powerful man who’s claimed her.
Roman Devereaux promised to keep an eye on the younger brother of one of his fallen comrades. The biggest threat to Peter seems to be a dangerous secret dueling society. Rome is determined to uncover the leaders of the society and shut it down before Peter gets himself killed. Rome’s watchfulness where Peter is concerned has him stuck at Vauxhall Gardens watching Peter and his friends cavort. When he spies a surprisingly innocent looking young woman amongst the doxies at the party, Rome decides she’s just the thing he needs to pass the time.
Thus our hero and heroine meet. Now here are a couple of questions for you: On a realism scale where would you rate a Regency miss who wanders off from her own safe party to join a drunken bash featuring young men and a bunch of prostitutes? As though that weren’t bad enough, this miss finds herself singled out by a man who thinks she’s also a prostitute and she lets him pleasure her in ways she’s never even imagined were possible? Realism scale of one to ten? A one? How about a man who meets a woman he thinks is a prostitute. Instead of just getting his jollies he decides to pleasure her like she’s never been pleasured before? Realism scale? A minus five? Sounds about right to my mind.
With that as a jumping off point, Ms. Mullins had a way to go to engage me as a reader. What did draw me in was the very real dilemma Anna and Rome face. Take away the investigations of the secret society and the over-used way they meet and there’s still the possibility of a good story. Anna is all but engaged to the Earl of Haverford when she meets Rome. When Rome meets her again at a family party he realizes she’s the woman promised to his cousin, Marcus Devereaux, the Earl of Haverford! Complicating things even more on an emotional level is the fact that Rome’s father created a major scandal when he ran off with another woman, leaving his wife and children behind. Rome is just now regaining respectability for his family and falling in love with Anna is a risk he can’t take.
I was interested in these characters whenever they were dealing with the emotional turmoil of their very real personal dilemma. Whenever the B story (the investigation) took over, my interest waned. That story was boring and unbelievable and the villain of the piece comes out of nowhere for an unrewarding climax. I just didn’t care who was luring young men to their deaths and I didn’t think the reasoning for why such a thing was happening was in the least plausible.
I don’t doubt this author has a good novel in her. What I doubt is that she can write it while following this paint-by-numbers format.