When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt. Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’ Or wrong. As is the case here. The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.
Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy. Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday. She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire. She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there. Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.
Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London. The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.
Michael Rosevear is the bastard son of the Marquess of Rosevear (and yes, the names and titles in this story are all over the place) and is on his way from his Yorkshire home to his father’s house in London. He’s not best pleased at having to make the trip, but is determined this is the last time he will dance to his father’s tune. All his life, the marquess has treated Michael as someone to be used when needed and shoved aside when not, and he has had enough of it. He knows he is expected to marry a wealthy tradesman’s daughter in order to bring her money into the family, and he’s prepared to do it in exchange for his father turning Rose Hall in Yorkshire over to him. He is frustrated and annoyed; and decides that if nothing else, the strange young woman who has asked him to take her to London will provide some diversion on the rest of the trip.
Alas, this is not to be. His companion is taciturn and evasive; even though she is clearly frightened of something or someone, she refuses to tell him what it is which frustrates him – and bugged the hell out of me – no end. Yet Michael’s protective streak is roused full force; his companion is an odd mixture of timid and fearless (so he thinks; I never saw anything to suggest the fearless part) and he is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her.
We all know where this is going; the problem is that the way it gets there is so unengaging. With the exception of Michael’s precocious younger brother and his step-mother, the characters are bland, the writing is wooden and the deus-ex-machina employed towards the end made me roll my eyes so hard they hurt.
Michael’s situation as the bastard son of a peer is an interesting one, and had that been more fully explored, I suspect it could have added some badly needed appeal to the story. By focusing on the wimpy Juliana, who is easily one of the dullest, least relatable heroines I’ve ever come across, we’re dragged instead in to a vat of insipidity; the woman doesn’t even know how to hail a cab, and is too stupid to understand how to do such a simple thing as raise her hand, because someone else has to show her how to do it!
There’s no character development and no romantic development; the first kiss happens with almost no build up, and the book’s two love scenes are uninspiring and devoid of any sexual tension. Not only am I disputing the word ‘thrilling’ in the blurb, I’m calling into question the word ‘romance’. I read an advance copy in which I spotted a number of typos, incorrect word choices, inconsistencies and sudden PoV switches, which I hope may be fixed at the copy-editing stage. Quite honestly though, even if that happens, it’s not going to turn this poor effort into something worth your time and money.