The Willful Miss Winthrop
As I read the description for this book, I was reminded of The Sergeant Major’s Daughter by Sheila Walsh. Walsh’s book was a favorite of mine for a long while because of the strength and empathy the heroine embodied. I had high hopes that Miss Winthrop, a heroine set on following the army into Spain, would similarly appeal. Sadly, she didn’t.
This heroine’s name is enough of a distraction in and of itself. She’s Cymberly Winthrop. It’s pronounced Kimberly, but we’re not told this until page 70, so I was pronouncing it as Simberly in my head. Of course, I never could get my brain to make the change and every time I’d read the name I’d have that momentary pause where I’d try correcting myself then give up until the next time her name was mentioned and the cycle would start all over again.
Now you’re probably thinking that you can’t dislike a heroine just because of her name, and you’re right. The problem with Cymberly’s character is that every time the author needs to generate tension it comes at Cymberly’s expense. Need to create a dramatic moment? Have Cymberly (remember that’s Kim-berly) get irrationally angry with the hero. Then have her kiss the hero, then have her hate him again for reasons that are simplistic and illogical. Then maybe she can kiss him again. Throw in a big misunderstanding, that Cymberly could solve if she’d stop to think, and you begin to get the picture.
Two things attempt to redeem this book: the hero, Major Geoffrey Ryder, and the setting, the rugged mountainous area of northern Spain. Cymberly meets Major Ryder when she arrives in Portugal to join her father, General Winthrop. The British, under Wellington’s command, are helping the Spanish throw the French out of their country. After being compromised and refusing to marry her compromiser, Cymberly has decided to follow the drum rather then spend any more time in London where the gossips are making her life difficult. Cymberly has just arrived in Lisbon when she first sees Geoffrey Ryder. He rescues a toddler who’s fallen into the water and saves the boy’s life. Cymberly later finds out that Geoffrey is distantly related to her maternal Grandfather, whom she has always hated, and therefore vows to have nothing to do with the Major.
Geoffrey is an engaging hero. He’s attracted to Cymberly but allows her to set the pace, which consists of one step forward and two steps back, but that’s Cymberly again and right now Geoffrey is our focus. Geoffrey grabs your attention as an alpha male who isn’t obnoxious about it. He’s close-mouthed and strong-willed about his work for the army, which makes him one of the most admired officers in the ranks. He rescues small children and Cymberly (twice) and is tough enough to survive capture by the enemy. When Cymberly blows hot and cold, he doesn’t do the usual alpha bit which involves making her do something for her own good; rather he makes it clear that he’s interested and the next step is up to her. In case you’re thinking this guy is perfect, don’t. His strong, silent method causes the misunderstanding, which is no small fault. This fact didn’t stop me from liking him, or wishing that Cymberly had been equally admirable.
As mentioned above, the unique setting setting was a very nice change of pace. It was fun to read a Regency Romance that didn’t revolve around a ballroom. Ninety percent of this book took place with the army as it marched across the mountains of Spain and fought battles, both large and small. The staples of a Regency were not lost in the dust of the trail, so don’t fret. There are enough women to provide friends and foes for Cymberly and of course there are men in plenty, in particular one Lieutenant Fleming, to act as obstacles to Geoffrey and Cymberly’s relationship. There’s even a ball or two.
Much as I liked some aspects of this book, it was very difficult to enjoy a romance when the heroine made a habit of acting in an illogical and irritating manner. No matter how appealing the hero and the setting, an unlikable heroine made what would otherwise have been a very enjoyable book into something of a chore.