Ah, Anne Stuart historicals. Anyone who has read even just two could predict the sequence of events: Bad boy hero, innocent(ish) heroine, some kind of suspense plot and sex at the tenth hour, immediately followed by emotional evisceration of the heroine before hero falls at her feet. You like, or you don’t. When that formula works, it really works. And when it doesn’t, you get books like this.
Part of my problem is that the Rohans are starting to pall. They’re all heartless and afraid to love, but by the third generation of love matches and loving parents you’d think they’d know better, right? So Benedick, Viscount Rohan, married the first time for love, and his wife died in childbirth. Then he married the second time for companionship, and his wife screwed around (and died in childbirth). So now he just wants to marry for heirs, and get laid. Because, you know, he’s a heartless Rohan, and poor wittle Benedick is afwaid to love.
Besides the ruthless Rohan, there’s the Heavenly Host, which, in its current incarnation, has gotten truly e-e-evil, and plans a detour from their normal harmless promiscuity to sacrificing virgins. Enter Lady Melisande “Charity” Carstairs, a widow who houses ex-prostitutes and prepares them for life after the brothel. Melisande hears about the virgin rite chez Heavenly Host, and goes to Benedick for help because his younger brother is involved in the Host.
Blah. Blah blah blah. There’s nothing here Ms. Stuart hasn’t done many times before, and many times better. The villain POVs (and I am so disappointed they even exist) are just boring. Melisande is okay (she’s not the crusading saint she sounds, and I liked her), but Benedick is a brat who is a mean, mean son of a gun, and without reason. Well, except for the fact that he’s a Rohan, so, well, obviously he’s a bastard.
The highlight: The romance between Melisande’s friend, a former brothel madame, and Benedick’s younger brother. The down side: There was far, far too little of them.
Even Ms. Stuart’s usually reliable prose shows small cracks. It’s good enough to pull at the gut – after all, it is Anne Stuart. But come on: “You’re way too pretty as it is?” Way too pretty? In an historical? Seriously.
And supposedly the book takes place after the first Afghan War, where Benedick’s brother was wounded. Well, except for a brief mention of that fact, we could have been anytime between 1790 and 1850. Wallpaper? More like whitewash.
Most newcomers to Ms. Stuart would probably find Shameless a cut above the crop, and in some ways it is. She still writes a hell of a love scene, her pacing is damn near spot on, and Melisande is one of her stronger heroines. But frankly, if you’re a newbie to the wonderfully dark world of Anne Stuart’s bad boys, don’t start here.