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REVIEW: Revenge Wears Rubies by Renee Bernard

Dear Ms. Bernard,

Cover image of Revenge Wears Rubies by Renee BernardI was drawn to your book for a fairly superficial reason – I liked the title. It’s semi-alliterative and evocative, and I am a sucker for the angst potential in a good revenge plot.

The story begins with a prologue set in a Bengali dungeon in 1857. Eight Englishmen find themselves imprisoned in a dark cell, each kidnapped for reasons that are unclear (they remain unclear at the end of the story; since this is the first book in a series presumably the reasons will be expanded on in future books). They introduce themselves to each other and banter, before the scene shifts to the first chapter, set two years later in London.

Our hero is one of the formerly imprisoned men, Galen Hawke (I’m going to have to sigh twice, one separate sigh each for the first and last name). Galen is tormented by memories of his imprisonment and doesn’t sleep well. Over breakfast with the strumpet he picked up the night before, Galen finds out that he and his surviving comrades are being talked about in society as a secret club, known as “the Jaded” (sigh number three for that name). The woman tells Galen,

“I’ve heard the Jaded described as a sullen group of impossible men too handsome for their own good, and you–while you are a delectable specimen, you are the dreariest man I’ve ever met.”

Sigh number four is occasioned by the phrase “sullen group of impossible men”, I’m afraid.

The strumpet departs, and Galen’s attention is caught by an item in the newspaper: a Miss Haley Moreland (our heroine; her first name inspires sigh number five) is engaged to be married. Galen is familiar with Haley Moreland as the much-beloved object of affection of his late friend John Everly (a normal 19th century name! Yay! Too bad he’s dead). John was one of Galen’s fellow prisoners in Bengal; he died in Galen’s arms after their escape.

This is where the revenge of the title comes in. Galen had heard all about John’s devotion to and love for Haley; John had declared his intention to marry Haley as soon as they returned to England. And, boy, is Galen pissed:

Galen struggled to focus, disbelief and fury warring behind his eyes. It couldn’t be the same woman that John had spoken of! She would be in mourning! She would be some distraught pale version of a girl bemoaning a life without her one true love…

Just like that, Galen has a new purpose in life: to get revenge on Haley Moreland, who has so cruelly thrown off the cloak of mourning that Galen thinks she should be wearing, less than a year after John’s death. He decides that he will break Haley’s heart and then “laugh, Miss Haley Moreland, when you cry at my feet.”

Oh, good gravy, there aren’t enough sighs in my body for this plot development. I’d start hyperventilating and faint dead away.

Look, I get it – Galen is Messed Up. He has been scarred by his imprisonment, and he’s obviously not thinking very clearly. But this is such a lame, weak excuse on which to hang a revenge plot that from that point on I couldn’t decide if Galen was too loathsome to care about, or too stupid to hate. I may have the advantage of knowing that Haley is a romance heroine, and thus probably all things good and virtuous. But even without the advantage of that knowledge…there’s just no getting around the fact that Galen is a huge asshole.

As for Haley, she is indeed blameless, though the true story of her relationship with John doesn’t come out until fairly late in the book. But her hasty engagement (to a basically harmless but over-the-top buffoonish fellow) is motivated by the usual self-sacrificing heroine’s reasoning: she has an alcoholic father and a quirky aunt who are depending on her to make a good marriage and support them. Haley would be just as happy being a modiste; she has a flair for dress-making and has often practiced economy by making her own clothes, in spite of her aristocratic pedigree.

Galen’s pursuit of Haley follows along fairly predictable lines; he is, after all, ridiculously handsome and she is a naive young miss with a rather toad-like fiance (who doesn’t seem that crazy about her; she’s marrying Herbert for his money and he’s marrying her for her lineage). Haley tries to resist, but soon succumbs to secret meetings with Galen, eventually giving in to his seduction completely. The love scenes are fairly hot, though rather purple. I raised my brows at the depiction of Galen’s semen as his “crème” the first time it appeared; little did I know that it would be referred to thusly thereafter. “Crème” makes me think of some sort of new drink at Starbucks, or perhaps an off-brand hair conditioner. It strikes me as a rather silly attempt to pretty up the word “cream”, a word that would have been bad enough, honestly, in this context. My preference is for oblique references or exact terms, and nothing in between. Though “seed” is so ubiquitous, I suppose I’m inured to it at this point. But no man-juice, cream, crème or baby batter, please. (Heh: I just found this on Wikipedia under “cream”: “Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream.” I guess that’s true of Galen’s semen.)

Anyway, also fairly predictably, Galen begins to have regrets. After all, he’s an asshole, not a monster. His musings mostly seem to come on the form of wondering whether he can have Haley without betraying John, though; he doesn’t give a lot of thought to the betrayal that he’s already committed against Haley. This did not endear Galen to me.

This is the second historical romance in a row that I’ve read that contained a rather murky and indifferently plotted suspense subplot. In this case, I think it may be something that plays out over several books. Galen and his friends are being pursued by various factions because of some treasures they took in their escape from Bengal (where apparently the treasure rooms are right next to the dungeons, and conveniently unguarded, I guess. I don’t know – it really wasn’t explained). The best I can say about this subplot is that it didn’t interfere with the main story too much.

I have the feeling that this book may work better for some other readers than it did for me. Emotional involvement in a romance can be a tricky thing, and if I’d cared more about the hero and heroine, I could have ignored Galen’s paper-thin reasoning for wanting revenge and some of the other problems I had with the book and just enjoyed the angst. My grade is a C-.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased at Amazon (affiliate link), Kindle (non affiliate link) or from other etailers.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

14 Comments

  1. katiebabs
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 17:59:58

    It seems a majority of these historical romance heroines are popping up at the hero’s bachelor pad late at night, wanting to be ravished, aka take my virginity please, even though they don’t really like the hero all that much.

    I couldn’t finish this one.

  2. Jennie
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 23:26:25

    katiebabs, I thought about dumping it and doing a DNF review, honestly. But I still find it very, very hard not to finish books once I start them (I used to find it impossible). I agree about the way the heroine ran around at night visiting the hero.

  3. Mina Kelly
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 03:34:04

    Damn, that set-up had me interested. I might keep an eye out for later books, if it’s not really explained in this one. Or maybe just a good Indian Mutiny era book.

    A scientist recently suggested sci fi films should only be allowed one massive scientific error per film (to prevent anyone ever making The Core again…). Can the historians amongst us demand historicals only get one made up name per novel?

  4. DS
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 06:48:23

    The names are bad, but do you think that he would actually eat breakfast the next day with the strumpet? Especially in the mid 19th century when things were far more strait laced that the Regency or 18th century.

    And your sighs reminded me of the time I got into an online discussion about whether or not Craven was a good name for a hero. Only if his sister is named Pusillaneous.

  5. Jayne
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 07:38:03

    I vote for the use of “whipped topping.” Too bad about a great book title being wasted here.

  6. katiebabs
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 07:57:24

    @Jennie:

    Or how about how she decides to meet him after he sends her a note, although she still doesn’t have a good opinion of him, but he makes her all tingly inside?

    This month alone I’ve had 7 DNFs and the majority of them were historical romances.

  7. Joanne
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 10:11:40

    @katiebabs: total agreement to that… chief among the DNFs was Stephanie Lauren’s latest Bride book. The H/h kept traveling but didn’t go anywhere.

    Then Lori Foster’s newest fighter book where by chapter two I felt like the heroine was schizophrenia and the hero was just plain weird.

    There were others, February was really a disappointing month for me with most of the new releases.

  8. Anonymous
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 17:45:37

    She’s still using “crème”? YUCK. Why haven’t her editors told her to quit it?

    Thank you for reviewing this. I read her debut trilogy because the plots sounded interesting. The first one started off okay, then went rapidly downhill. I thought, okay, it’s her debut, maybe the second will be better. The second was actually a bit better; it wasn’t great, but it was better. The third one wasn’t. And she never shut up about the crème. I’ve decided not to bother with her again without evidence that she’s changed; from your review, she hasn’t.

  9. Jennie
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 19:10:16

    So “crème” is like, a thing with this author? Why? Of all the words you could use…I just don’t get the appeal of that one.

    I tend to be pretty conservative about romance novel names. I’d be fine if all heroines were named Elizabeth. Better that than silly names that throw me out of the story every time they are mentioned.

    Of the hero’s many “jaded” friends, two of them had tree names…one was Rowan and I forget the other one. I had to look quickly to make sure they didn’t all have tree names. I wouldn’t have put it past the author.

  10. Anonymous
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 06:31:41

    @Jennie:

    Yeah, it seems to be a weird tic of hers. Actually, in her first trilogy, she was consistently equal-opportunity about using “crème” for both hero and heroine.

    You have no idea how glad I am to discover that I’m not the only one weirded out by that. It’s inexplicable, isn’t it? Bad enough to use it once, but to make it your default term???

  11. Isobel
    Mar 14, 2010 @ 08:06:07

    After I finished this book, I could not sleep. I felt like the male protagonist, and in a very bad way. It was the depravity of passing off the sodomy of an underage woman as erotica. The love scenes were obviously written by a man and were more porn than anything I’ve ever read in a romance. I’m going to send it back to the publisher for a refund. It should have had a warning label on it. I have been reading romance novels since I was 14 (decades ago) and I never read one with sodomy in it. And the sodomy was passed off as normal sex. I’ve got no problem with consenting adults doing their thing behind closed doors, but I do not pick up a romance novel looking for this kind of depravity. Then I wondered if 14 year olds were picking up this book and reading how a woman who had never discussed sex or had any sex education was liking it in the ass! I just could not sleep and probably won’t for a while. Why didn’t I stop reading when I got to this passage? I did get an inkling before I got to the sentence that described it, but I just kept telling myself, “This is a romance novel. It has a happy ending. Don’t worry, they won’t do THAT.” But they did! EEEEEEEWWWWWWW!! Does this other write about sodomy in her other books?

  12. Jennie
    Mar 15, 2010 @ 18:39:42

    Hmm, Isobel. Well, I was a little surprised by that scene, but unlike you I have read several romance novels that included anal sex. No, it’s not common, but it seemed to be a bit of a fad a few years ago, perhaps as some authors tried to sex up their books. It didn’t really feel organic in this book – that is, it felt like it was an attempt to sex up the story. But it didn’t offend me and I don’t consider it “depravity.” In the end, I was still more bugged by “creme” than by that scene.

  13. Jane
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 08:24:28

    @Jennie It does seem like the anal has faded from the books. I remember reading a Sarah McCarty book from Berkley Heat and I think she was a notorious one for the backdoor action and there was none in this vampire book.

  14. Jennie
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 22:45:52

    Maybe vampire + anal is just a bit over the top?

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