Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Never a Gentleman by Eileen Dreyer

Dear Ms. Dreyer,

Years ago, while I was waiting for my luggage to appear on the airport carousel an old woman approached me. “Are you an American?” she asked. I said that I was. “Have you ever been to Scotland before?” I said I hadn’t but I was really looking forward to staying in Edinburgh. “I hope you’re not going to be doing one of those bus tours of Scotland in a day. You can’t see Scotland in a day.” I replied that I had no plans to do any such thing, but I was planning on taking a tour of Loch Ness. “Just be sure not to try to see Scotland in a day.” In the meantime, my luggage had finally appeared. I went to go fetch it and when I came back, the old lady had disappeared–as prophets, oracles, and Scottish witches are wont to do.

Never a Gentleman by Eileen DreyerOf course, the bus tour to Loch Ness turned out to be a 12 hour tour of all of Scotland, not just a tour of the lake. By the end of it, I understood the old woman’s dire warnings. The problem with a 12 hour bus tour of Scotland is that you really can’t possibly see Scotland in just 12 hours on a bus. You are in a race against time and space–a race you cannot win. Every stop you make becomes a Sophie’s Choice between a brief glimpse of Scottish history and the bathroom. If you make the former choice, you are invariably herded back to the bus long before you’ve even gotten a good look at whatever interesting landmark you’ve stopped at. If you make the latter choice, you’ve missed whatever historical architecture you’ve come to see all together. Most of the bus ride is spent listening to a recording telling you about the macabre and massacre-ridden history of the Scots. Occasionally, you will be directed to look to your left or your right for a view of whatever-it-is. Just as you are craning your neck left-wise or right-wise with the sincere interest of a paying tourist, the bus will drive by it and it will be nothing but a blurred memory before you’ve even anticipated whatever-it-is’s approach.

Never a Gentleman, the continuation of the series begun with Barely a Lady, suffers from 12-hour-bus-tour-of-Scotland-itis. Just when things are getting interesting, just when perhaps a character is about to become a three-dimensional being, the plot rushes forward–zipping by the landmarks on its way to the next scene it will invariably zip by.

Never a Gentleman opens with great promise. But this promise does not last. Diccan Hilliard is a spy masquerading as a diplomat. He’s on his way back to London from Paris in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, carrying with him information about a clandestine group of traitors called the British Lions. The Lions have been funneling money to Napoleon as part of a larger plan to unseat the current British government and put the power of the nation into their own hands. These very conservative Britons feel the country ought to be run the right way–their way. They are not against England, so much as they are for an England that no longer exists and to which they wish to return. In short, they are a group of politically conservative fundamentalists who believe that the ends justify the means. Hilliard, while he has not learned who exactly constitutes this group, has learned what their plot is; it is a piece of information that is enough to put him in danger.

Miss Grace Fairchild is a soldier’s daughter. She’s spent her entire life following the drum. Her father, the General, has recently passed away and Grace has been living with her friend, Lady Kate Seaton. The two women are in Canterbury having received a note from Diccan to meet them there. When we, the readers, first meet Grace she is in the midst of an erotic dream–a dream which turns out to be rather too real. She comes awake in a bed at the inn in Canterbury only to find that her dream man is the very real Mr. Hilliard. If this is not quite bad enough, the door to the room bursts open and reveals a pack of the most gossipy aristocrats around. There is nothing to do but marry.

Of course, Grace wasn’t there on purpose and neither was Diccan. Nor was the note sent to Grace and Lady Kate a note written by Hilliard. They come to the rather swift conclusion that they were both drugged, which indicates that they have been cleverly trapped by some malignant conspiracy. Despite this and the threat of social ruin, Grace is reluctant to marry Diccan even to save both their reputations. All she desires is to finally move into her own home–a house that she inherited–and live a quiet country life.   Understandably, she does not want to spend the rest of her life following another man, catering to his needs, especially as she has spent the first part of her life doing exactly that for her late-father. Alas, this dream of independence and security is not to be. Circumstances being what they are–and the sudden appearance of a rasher of Grace’s soldiering friends demanding Hilliard’s head–lead to a swift union.

This summary of events is really just the set up in the early chapters for the rest of the story. The majority of the novel is spent unraveling the mystery of who drugged Diccan and Grace, for what purpose, and how that is connected to the nefarious schemes of the British Lions. Diccan, in typical spying-hero fashion, has determined to do the honorable thing and save Grace by marrying her, but has decided to not tell her a thing about the reasons behind their drugging . . . to protect her, of course. Grace, in typical spinster heroine fashion, has determined to make the best marriage possible by sacrificing her own desires on the altar of Diccan’s idiocy. Yet, the problem with the book is not the plot, or even the characters’ emotional development, but the way it is executed. My frustration as a reader was centered on how the story’s pacing seemed to be at odds with how it wanted to use genre topes and clichés, and how they were actually used.

The way the story moved from point A to point B goes back to my 12-hour-tour-of-Scotland metaphor. Just as on a bus careening through the Highlands, bent on getting back to Edinburgh by 6:00 P.M. on the dot, so too did I have a similarly rushed experience reading this book. I was immediately interested by the first paragraph of the opening prologue and by the length of the book itself. Both seemed to me to promise a more epic feel–something that was so common to old skool romances but that is often lacking in more recent books. Yet, the promise of the opening was never realized in the subsequent chapters. I’ve been trying to find a passage that illuminates this experience but it isn’t something that happens in passages, in quotations, but in the overall arc of the narration. Which leads me to the second part of my frustration.

The use of clichés is not in and of itself a problem for me. That is, I could read a thousand stories about rakes and spies and spinsters and evil French conspirators ’til Doomsday and be perfectly happy about it. The problem isn’t these particular tropes or even that they are often used in a very conventional way. This is what genre does. It is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. The pleasure of reading genre, like pleasure of reading a strictly metered poem, is in seeing how the author–constrained as they are by the limits of the form they are using–makes those very constraints and clichés new. Go to town with the cliché, I say! No, what was disappointing were the glimpses–the glimpses I saw, face squashed against the tour bus window–of really intriguing and varied uses of these clichés. “Stop!” I wanted to shout. “Go back! Let’s linger here for a moment and explore this!” Alas, for me the bus did not stop.

The particular example I have in mind is the way Ms. Dreyer used Diccan’s mistress, Minette as a foil to both Grace and their marriage. On the one hand, Minette is the usual mistress fare. Now normally mistress does one of three things: she disappears with little to no fanfare, she plots the heroine’s downfall in some way shape or form, or she becomes friends with the heroine. In this case, Minette is somehow connected to the nefarious plot of the British Lions and Diccan is forced to continue his relationship with her in order to gain information about the specifics of that plot. One night, Grace is brought to a house and forced to view her husband having sex with his mistress through a floor length two-way mirror–thus ensuring Diccan doesn’t know she’s there, and Grace’s compliance to the machinations of others.

Due to the nature of the occupation of spying, Diccan finds out that Grace witnessed this scene and confronts her about it. Although he feels sick about this when he initially learns that she witnessed not only him betraying her sexually, but saying cruel things about her, when the confrontation comes he does not behave in the least sorry or guilty. This is ostensibly to maintain his cover:

He was swaying a bit, as if the ground were uncertain. “I have just learned that you were at Half Moon Street last night.”

Disappointment bore her down. “Did Kit tell you?”

“Braxton? You’ve talked to Braxton about this?” He stepped right up to tower over her, his eyes glowing with a peculiar light that sent chills racing through her. “Do you want to tell me why you shared our private business with Kit Braxton?”

She sat absolutely still, afraid she would unleash all of her pain on him. It would be pointless and humiliating, and solve nothing.

“You haven’t answered me, Grace,” Diccan sneered, his words a bit slurred. He’d been drinking, Grace surprised. She couldn’t imagine Diccan Hilliard ever being less than in perfect control.

Well, expect the night he’d made love to her. Maybe he simply couldn’t abide her sober.

The conversation deteriorates into Grace asking him if he is a spy and Diccan refusing to give her any kind of a straight answer. She finally gets a confession out of him about the death of Bertie Everham, which we witnessed in the prologue:

“On your honor?” she asked, stricken.

Diccan glared at her. “On my honor. Now will you leave it be?”

She couldn’t answer for a long moment. Something felt wrong, and she couldn’t think what it was. But she had just suffered one too many shocks and felt buffeted by it.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, surprising herself.

Sighing, Diccan dragged a hand through his hair. “What will it take to satisfy you?” he demanded. “What do you want me to do?”

And before she knew she was going to do it, she told him. “All those things I saw you do to your mistress last night?” she said, trembling with the enormity of her audacity. “I want you to do them to me.”

Which he does. What’s remarkable about this scene is that Diccan’s infidelity opens up an erotic world for Grace in which to ask for sex. But what troubled me about this scene was that, while it was doing something unusual with the trope of mistress and marital infidelity, I felt that there was not sufficient build up to it to give me any concrete idea of A) why this was Grace’s reaction, B) why Diccan complied, or C) how Diccan could keep up the pretense of his masquerade afterwards. It seemed to come out of the blue, without any markers or indicators prior that would allow me to feel that this was the organic result of Diccan and Grace’s relationship. I wish that her request here had felt more a part of Grace’s character. I would have wished that, though surprising, it had been a fluid aspect of the rest of the plot. Instead, I felt it was one of the many abrupt and disjointed changes from trope to another without explanation–as if I had failed to read a few paragraphs here and there that would have explained such a transition.

The next day Grace runs off, mainly due to the memory of the sex clashing with the memory of his cruel remarks as well as her suspicions that her abigail, Babs, is also sleeping with Diccan. When Diccan discovers she is gone, he takes off after her, mistress and nefarious friends in tow. The scene that follows feels as if it exists in world disconnected from the erotic scene just before. It was a sudden instantaneous glimpse of a different sort of use of the trope of mistress that with equal suddenness went back to a more standard use of the trope.

The disjointed nature of Diccan and Grace’s relationship is ultimately, the biggest problem with this book. I never got a sense of the world of their emotions, of their characters. All I got was passing glimpses of interesting people, blurred impressions of the possibilities of a romance. Nor did I feel that they ever connected to each other. They seemed as much as me to be passengers on a hurtling, time driven tour bus as I. The mystery, the spying took precedence in the plot as much as it took precedence for Diccan over his marriage to Grace.

These brief glimpses of interest were not enough to overcome the sense that I could be anywhere in Romancelandia, rather than in the specific landscape of Diccan and Grace’s relationship. I wish I could have seen more than I did, but alas for the tourist who is shunted brutally from site to site. I would try another of your books with the hope that these glimpses become panoramas. . . C.

Lazaraspaste

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony

Lazaraspaste came to the romance genre at the belated age of twenty-six. While she prefers historicals, she's really up for anything . . . much like her view of food! Some of her favorite authors include Jo Beverley, Anne Stuart, Lisa Kleypas and Joan Smith. Once a YA librarian, she is now working towards an advanced degree in literature with the mad idea of becoming a critic and teacher. Though she loves romance, fantasy has always been her first love. She hates never-ending series and believes the ending is the most important part.

17 Comments

  1. DS
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 12:48:57

    I really like Eileen Dreyer’s suspense novels, but I’m definitely not touching this one. Also I think the two way mirror is about a century too early.

    ReplyReply

  2. Julie M.
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 13:07:20

    Thanks for the review. I confess I’m not entirely sure what to do about this book. I have “Barely a Lady” on my tbr and I read the “preview” for NAG at the end of that one and was looking forward to NAG. Now I’ve read a couple of reviews regarding this book including a DNF but kind of like a train wreck I starting to feel like I want to “go look” for myself.

    I guess I’ll bump “Barely a Lady” up on my tbr and see if that influences me any. Am I remembering correctly that “Barely a Lady” had mixed reviews also?

    ReplyReply

  3. Nightwriter
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 13:08:54

    “Grace is brought to a house and forced to view her husband having sex with his mistress through a floor length two-way mirror”

    When I read this, nothing that came after in the review mattered. Just no. I wouldn’t touch this one either.

    ReplyReply

  4. Las
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 13:50:58

    Just when things are getting interesting, just when perhaps a character is about to become a three-dimensional being, the plot rushes forward-’zipping by the landmarks on its way to the next scene it will invariably zip by.

    That line perfectly describes Barely a Lady, which I just finished reading yesterday. The excerpt for NAG piqued my interest, but I was so annoyed by the cliches and wasted potential and obvious series baiting in BAL that I was unsure about reading it. This review made the decision for me.

    ReplyReply

  5. TKF
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 14:35:31

    The hero must continue to be with the mistress thing was done by Jo Beverly in one of her early Rouge books, An Arranged Marriage, I think. I’d call it derivative rather than unusual.

    The two-way mirror thing would have had the book sailing across the room. They were invented in the 20th century for *$%#'s sake. How can a writer (as well as her editor) not bother to check something like this? I mean, a peephole would have worked just as well, and it would have been historically accurate.

    ReplyReply

  6. DM
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 15:23:32

    @TFK

    That is definitely An Arranged Marriage. The plots sound nearly identical. Evil spies scheme to compromise hero and heroine into marriage, and once married the husband must go on banging his villainous spy mistress, despite his growing love for the heroine. For England, of course. It reached the apex of its silliness when the hero, after rescuing his beloved wife from death at the hands of his mistress, takes his wang out and waggles it at the villainess. On the deck of a ship, if I remember correctly.

    I wonder if Dreyer, like Beverly, is consciously aping Dunnett. Not with the wang-waggling, but with the ruthless hero who goes on sexoring with dangerous women for noble motives witheld from reader and heroine. I’m all for authors attempting risky, ambitious books, so I try not to complain when they don’t pull it off. But I do wonder if the pace at which authors are expected to release new books these days doesn’t make these stories harder to do well.

    ReplyReply

  7. TKF
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 15:41:04

    I LOVE Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles!!! If you’re going to model your ruthless hero on someone, Francis Crawford is a damn good model to pick.

    And yes, I wish they’d go back to a book a year as the norm. A lot of books feel rushed, which is not all that surprising given the time constraints authors are functioning under today.

    ReplyReply

  8. CD
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 15:55:29

    @Las: I felt the same way about BARELY A LADY as well. Glimpses of potential but no satisfaction. In the end, a pretty frustrating novel. I was hoping that NEVER A GENTLEMAN would be different but think I’ll give it a miss after this review.

    ReplyReply

  9. Kim in Hawaii
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 18:12:58

    Have you been back to Scotland to visit it in depth?

    ReplyReply

  10. Jinni
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 19:04:13

    Love your review. Won’t read the book.

    ReplyReply

  11. DM
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 19:06:37

    @TFK

    Re: Lymond as a great model. I agree with you, and I think an astonishing number of authors do too. I’ve definitely read that Jean Ross, Elizabeth Peters, Jo Beverly and Joanna Bourne are all Dunnett fans, and many of them acknowledge a debt to her in their work. I suspect Mary Jo Putney, based on elements in her Silk Trilogy, is also a Lymond fan. For books that aren’t romances under the RWA definition (although if the series were taken as a whole I think it would be) they’ve had a huge influence. Most of it, to my mind, good, but some of it mixed. Illusion is a book that flirts with Dunnett levels of angst, without putting its characters through trials that merit it. And Arranged Marriage really sings before the spy plot enters, but the tension of the second half of the book hinges entirely on the hero keeping unnecessary secrets. But again, I feel like it’s churlish to complain. Dunnett didn’t live off her writing, and she took between four and six years to complete each book. She had time to build smoothly oiled plots. Something that just isn’t possible for a full time romance writer. There’s another discussion going on somewhere around here about redemption plots and antiheroes and why we don’t see more of them. And I think the time constraints authors face now are a huge factor in this. You need new books to keep your backlist in demand. And with the vogue for back to back trilogies, I think the problem will only grow worse. I was pleasantly surprised recently by a debut author, whose first book was deftly plotted, emotionally satisfying, and written in clean, well-edited prose. I eagerly bought her next release, which came out the next month, and couldn’t believe it flowed from the same pen. The third book was similarly disappointing. But they sold. Heck, I bought them. So as a marketing gambit, it works. But I think its hurting the quality of books overall.

    ReplyReply

  12. LizL
    Apr 02, 2011 @ 04:48:13

    The two-way mirror was the least of this book’s problems.

    I read Barely a Lady and was deeply frustrated by several points: the lack of redemption for a hero who killed an innocent man, the high potential of the writing in contrast to all of the cliched embellishments (Drake’s Rakes- really?), the fact that the female characters in general were so much better drawn than the male. But the teaser for Never a Gentleman hooked me…

    The teaser puts forward a “colorless” heroine who is put in a compromising position with a louche and arrogant diplomat/spy. Sign me up- a marriage of strangers, a chastised hero who realizes just how deeply he misjudged his wife, a woman who gains her husband’s love by being brave, smart, and loyal as opposed to feisty and pretty.

    But no, actually Grace is feisty and pretty, she just hides it. And Diccan is never chastised into a realization of the treasure that has fallen into his lap. Instead he blunders from event to event and at the end of it is somehow lucky enough to get the girl. And the use of pubic hair color as a metaphor of how alive/liberated/virgin-or-not a woman is pissed me off. Why not just vajazzle Grace and be done with it? The East-is-color-and-sex and the West-is-grey-with-sexual-hangups tropes were also tiresome.

    I’m mostly annoyed because both books have taken angsty plots that I adore (the lost reputation, the angry marriage), loaded them down with cliches, and then took all the characters on a ride-through-Scotland as described above. And I’m even more annoyed because I love the woman-afraid-of-the-asylum plot (I read Maria- Or the Wrongs of Woman at an impressionable age) and the teaser for the next book promises quite a bit of this. But what’s the use if the hero remains a jerk and you don’t understand why, at the end of it all, the heroine still gives him the time of day?

    ReplyReply

  13. Isobel Carr
    Apr 02, 2011 @ 16:44:13

    And the use of pubic hair color as a metaphor of how alive/liberated/virgin-or-not a woman is pissed me off.

    Do blonds have more fun?

    ReplyReply

  14. Sunita
    Apr 03, 2011 @ 07:14:16

    I caved in and bought it despite the warning flags. Barely A Lady had the same types of issues, but I love Dreyer’s writing and the plot/characterization of this one is up my alley.

    The historical goofs are annoying, especially since they’re not necessary to the plot. But it doesn’t sound as if these are 21st C people dropped into 1815, so that’s at least a plus. And I do like a bastard hero.

    ReplyReply

  15. Sunita
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 11:07:03

    I liked Never a Gentleman quite a bit, definitely more than Barely A Lady. I thought the relationship was well depicted, but that may be because I was mentally filling in stuff as I read. As I said before, I’m a sucker for Dreyer’s writing and she usually pulls me in. They were both difficult characters to bring to life, given that they had these major flaws alongside their strengths, but they worked for me.

    The historical goofs weren’t overwhelming for me, although I was surprised that Dreyer got some of the easier forms of address wrong but the the more difficult ones correct. And I thought the integration of the Eastern influences was better than 99 percent of the romance novels out there.

    I did not like the original red-hair scene. I understood why it was necessary plotwise, but it felt uncomfortable rather than sexy. If I’d been Grace, I’d have run a mile after that.

    ReplyReply

  16. RHenry
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 20:42:28

    This is a keeper for me. I had some issues, as well – but, it’s been ages since I’ve been so riveted and invested in a romance novel & had real reactions to it! I had an ARC of it & have been assuming it’ll make a splash since it’s bound to ruffle feathers! I adored Grace and came to terms with Diccan as if I were Grace – very emotional, and I usually don’t look for that in my romance reading.

    ReplyReply

  17. REVIEW: Always a Temptress by Eileen Dreyer - Dear Author
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 12:38:22

    [...] Harry isn’t a thoughtless, action first type of guy thus his actions toward Kate can’t easily be excused by a natural character flaw. But writing the overly angry cruel hero is one way to ratchet up the angst. It builds sympathy for the heroine and creates a perfect scenario for the grovel, something that seems pervasive in this series based on the reviews of the Drake’s Rakes books from Jayne and Lazaraspaste. [...]

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: