Splendor wasn’t bad. I hadn’t heard of Brenda Joyce before picking up the book, so I didn’t have any particular expectations (like I do before starting a Julie Garwood). Although the characters and the situation were not entirely believable, the book was packed with lots of conflict, action, and interesting historical facts. I can say one thing for certain – this book is not predictable by any means. It might also appeal to the reader who is looking for a novel where there’s lots of stuff going on besides the relationship between the hero and heroine.
The book is set first in England, and then in Russia, during the early 1800’s. The heroine, Carolyn Browne, is the daughter of a bookseller. Her mother, who had eloped with her father, died, leaving Carolyn to be raised by her hard-working father. Carolyn is one of those “well-read, spunky, politically-inspired” heroines. She’s not quite as quirky as other heroines of her ilk, but she does write a newspaper column (under a male pseudonym) which starts most of the action in the book.
Europe and Russia are wrapped in war. England is fighting the French, the Americans, and the Russians. Napoleon’s is fighting with everyone, most particularly the Russians. The hero, Prince Nicholas Sverayov, is in London to help negotiate a treaty between Russia and England so that together, the two countries can annihilate the French. A notorious womanizer, the darkly handsome Nicholas finds himself the target of one of Carolyn’s satirical political columns. Eventually, the two meet – Carolyn, the well-read virgin, is fascinated by Nicholas, and Nicholas is immediately attracted to Carolyn.
The events that transpire in London are just the beginning of the trials and tribulations Nicholas and Carolyn experience before they can live “happily ever after.” Carolyn, disguised as a man in order to spy on Nicholas, finds herself in a brothel, as Nicholas (who sees through her disguise) tries to get her to reveal her true identity. Nicholas visits Carolyn as she works at her father’s bookstore, Carolyn is invited to her first ball, and eventually Nicholas invites Carolyn to become governess of his young daughter, Princess Katya. As a result, Carolyn travels to war-torn Russia where she moves from St. Petersburg to Moscow, just in time to experience Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow first-hand.
From my description, the book seems pretty normal, right? Wrong!! Joyce weaves plenty of secondary storylines into the main plot. Too many, in my opinion. Nicholas is actually married. Although his wife is basically an evil whore who has slept with basically everyone during the last five years (except Nicholas) the fact remains – he is still married! I have a hard time falling in love with a hero who is already married. Carolyn struggles with this a little bit, but she seems like such a practical character that I can’t believe that she would actually let herself fall in love with a married man. To make it worse, Carolyn goes to live in Nicholas’s house to be a governess for his daughter (?) while his wife is living there as well.
Besides this “love triangle” of sorts, Carolyn’s grandmother has reappeared after disowning her daughter and tries to meddle in Carolyn’s life, Carolyn’s father is caught in some traitorous scheme, Nicholas is struggling with the fact that his wife was impregnated by his beloved cousin, Katya (Nicholas’s daughter) thinks that her mother hates her, and the list goes on and on. Are you confused yet? I have a good memory, so I was okay, but if you have a hard time remembering who’s who when it comes to secondary characters, you might have a hard time with Splendor.
I liked all of the action in the book – but to me, the weak character development prevented me from really enjoying it as a romance novel. In order to create a strong love between characters, the author needs to really develop the characters so that their relationship is almost tangible to the reader. Although Carolyn and Nicholas have rich pasts, their individual personalities aren’t well-developed, so their romance doesn’t sizzle and the seduction scenes don’t make me slow down with anticipation.
The book is long, so if you are looking to read a dreamy romance that will let you escape from your daily life, this is probably not your best choice. If you’re looking for an action-filled novel, with a little bit of romance, then you will probably enjoy Brenda Joyce’s Splendor.