Dear Ms. Bennet:
I have to tell you up front that you will not want to read this review, not that I think you will, but in case you have a Google Alert set up, this is something that you should just delete.
/start rant (there will be spoilers and maybe a little blood)
This book is an amalgamation of horrible romance cliches that are designed to make women look stupid and romanticize disgusting male behavior. It meets or exceeds every stereotypical thought someone outside of romance has about the romance genre and leads to wrong generalizations about the people who read romance.
Let’s start out with Chapter One where our brown sparrow of a heroine, Antoinette, is ruminating about being sent to a country estate from an unscrupulous man. During her ruminations about this she takes the time to think about the fact that even though she wears subdued outer clothing she has a weakness for sexy lingerie. WTF? This chick is supposed to be worried about escaping from the clutches of a villainous man and she spends time monologuing about her underwear?
But, of course, we have to know that she likes sexy underwear because the very next scene a highwayman stops the carriage, bursts inside and then starts manhandling her. He wants a letter that she has and demands she hand it over. When she refuses, he tears her bodice and starts gripping her breasts. This totally turns her on. WTF? And him as well because of the said sexy lingerie.
I am supposed to believe that some gently bred woman in the 1840s and is unmarried is going to be delighted that some scary man in a mask is ripping her clothes off and making like he is going to rape her? I wouldn’t even believe this scenario today if some guy carjacked a girl on the way to the country, ripped her shirt and started manhandling her. But no, in this book, not only is Antoinette turned out by the breast fondling, she’s breathless with fucking anticipation when he lifts her skirts. And wow, did he just brush her privates by accident or on purpose and will he do it again?
He drew his hands downward and his fingers accidentally brushed her most intimate place; or was it on purpose?
If my fireplace were wood burning and not natural gas, I would have ripped out chapter one and burned those pages. I’m supposed to believe that because she doesn’t care what society says and some ancient ancestress is telling her to “go for it” that this scene should be titillating instead of disgusting.
Of course, the book does not get better. The highwayman, Gabriel is really the former owner of the manor. Gabriel has had this “birthright” torn from him when his father signed it over to the villain, Lord Appleby. Gabriel does not find the letter and returns to a cottage on the grounds of the manor. He then tells his faithful servant that he isn’t sure he can obtain the letter. The servant gives him encouragement by telling him
“That’s ’cause you’re a gentleman, master,” Wonicot explained. “You’ve been brought up to be kind to women, so it goes against your grain to frighten them. And I wouldn’t call Miss Dupre weak and feeble. She’s got a look in her eye, that one.”
Oh Mr. Wonicot, maybe because you weren’t there inside the carriage and thus, you didn’t realize that the asshole ripped the clothes off the woman, fondled her and stuck his hand up her skirts, or maybe you think that kind of behavior is gentlemanly and heroic. After all, I’m sure that is how I, the reader, am supposed to view it. Unfortunately, I view it as boorish at best, potential rapist at worst.
Looking at how Gabriel treats other women in the story suggests that he is definitely a self absorbed asshole. For example, young Mary, the servant girl, dallied with Gabriel when he was younger. He snuggled with her, kissed her and she built up expectations, unreasonable ones, that she and Gabriel may one day be a couple. Of course, in Gabriel’s mind, he was just practicing and when he went off to London, he snuggled, kissed and did much more. Is that honorable? Heroic? Is accosting a woman in a carriage and ripping off her bodice honorable or heroic? No no no no. I don’t like Gabriel. He acts and sounds like an impetuous spoiled young boy. So your father sold you out. Move on, you asshole.
Instead, Gabriel embarks on midnight visits wearing his mask to the manor house. There, night after night, he encounters, and scares the shit out of, Antoinette as she wanders from library to schoolroom. He dubs her the “little brown sparrow” and “pocket Venus” and “clever little minx.” He accosts her regularly which she apparently doesn’t mind. She’s all about giving up the goods to some guy who comes to her at night wearing a mask. The best part? Antoinette finds some erotic books in the library so that she can help seduce herself. Every household in England must have had these. They were more common than the penny dreadfuls which makes perfect sense because why else would all those orgies in historical romance be included?
Even better than a little brown sparrow-minx Venus who finds two descriptive and illustrated erotic manuals in a gentry’s country library is that the gentry owns part of London’s most infamous brothel: Aphrodite’s Club. Even better than that is that the gentry’s wife is worried about being shunned by the local parish if word got out that she had an affair because having an affair is so much worse that owning a whorehouse. Woot.
So let’s count the cliches:
- brown wren on the outside wearing sexy lingerie underneath
- highway man is really hero, landed gentry in disguise
- all the servants love the hero and eventually the heroine
- the little brown sparrow-minx finds erotic tomes – hmm I wonder what she’ll do with those? Not use them to impale her self on the fleshy pole of the masked highway man who is really the hero in disguise
- heroine befriends groom and allows him to chastise her about her sexual choices (of course groom is also hero who is also the highway man)
- there is a whorehouse involved
But let’s not get bogged down by the cliches. After all, what’s a few cliches between friends? Let’s look at the plot. We have Antoinette who is super rich and her sister, Cecilia. Antoinette, a young rich heiress, apparently can travel from her home in Surrey to London to visit Lord Abbleby without chaperonage. Who has control of her fortune? Not really clear. Antoinette is caught in a compromising position with Lord Appleby and is sent to his country manor to tamp down rumors that they are having an affair until Antoinette agrees to marry him. Um, that makes tons of sense. No one will ever start gossiping about that.
Then we have Lord Appleby who is some kind of lord but feels antipathy for the “London blue bloods”. Wasn’t he a London blueblood? Instead, he is a “self-made man”? who “pulled [himself] up from nothing?”
The story is set around the time of the opening of the Crystal Palace. There was alot in the book about the Palace itself but not much else. It read like someone had come accross a book about the Crystal Palace and thought, hmm, I’d like to write a a book about it. I find it ironic that the book featuring the Crystal Palace and Prince Albert (a very Anglicized Albert at that) makes the “self made” man as the villain given that the Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition which displayed the modern technologies of the day and that Prince Albert was a bit of a populist himself. But this book neither explores the underbelly of modern technology of the day as corrupting which would fit having the self made man the villain, nor did it explore the changing mores of society as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The Crystal Palace is nothing more than a set piece, a marker whose presence is supposed to imbue the story with historical authenticity. In other words, any other museum or exhibition hall could have replaced the Crystal Palace in this story without effecting the arc, theme or plot of the book.
But who cares about creating any historical accuracy so long as you have a historical monument anchoring the story, right? Who cares that you have a young, rich woman staying at London’s most notorious brothel? Who cares she traisping around without a chaperone?
But, and most importantly, both Gabriel and Antoinette had money. Gabriel made his money off of railroad speculation and Antoinette had inherited it, so why they were running around in subterfuge was beyond me. Use your fucking pocket books and buy your way out of your respective messes. Seriously, this book was a wall banger, in every aspect. D