REVIEW: The Accidental Countess by Valerie Bowman
Dear Ms. Bowman,
When the story switched perspectives from heroine to hero at the fifth chapter, my distinct thought was: I don’t know how I made it past the first four chapters in this book without slapping someone. It was not an auspicious start and went downhill from there.
Both the heroine’s friend and cousin were atrocious. The friend was especially unbearable, as it was her brilliant idea to have our heroine masquerade as an imaginary person rather than as herself, one of the hero’s friends whom he’d not seen in many years while away at war.
This book caught my notice because I love a shy heroine and I adore a war veteran, whether male or female. (Historicals, of course, have only males as vets, unless we’re counting lady spies. Wish that were changed. Who’d like to make up a fake country where females are allowed to go to war even in the 1800s and the princess runs away from home and fights for her country, and her commanding officer is the rival for the throne who hates her family, and he discovers her true identity after the war is over and he’s already half in love with her? It writes itself, friends.)
But although I am a huge sucker for the hidden identity trope (I blame you, Johanna Lindsey), I have a strong, strong abhorrence to friends lying to each other. And they are friends. And she’s outright lied to him, just because he didn’t recognize her at first glance because he hadn’t seen her since her sixteenth birthday, and that was seven years earlier. Still, I wanted to give them a chance. I liked what I’d seen of the hero. I liked the heroine, too. It was her friends who made me want to break out the Mr. Hyde in me and go psycho.
The novel progressed and I realized, with horror, that I’d slapped someone after all: myself. Every page I turned was like violence upon me. “I’m gonna slap you now!” *slap* “Did you like it? Good.” *slap* “I’m about to do it again! Keep reading!” *slap* “Keep reading!!” *slap* This continued the entire way through. Why do I do this to myself?
At least Penelope, Cassandra’s cousin, knew she was a selfish bitch and was semi-willing to own it. She was her own person and wanted what she wanted. I can respect that. But Lucy, a duchess and the main character of the first novel in the series, which I had not read, had one of the most enormous cases of too-stupid-to-live-itis (yes, Microsoft Word, please add that term to the dictionary; thank you) that I have ever seen. Somehow, this woman decided it was a marvelous idea to lie to our hero that Cassandra, who is in love with him, is actually a fictional person. She also gave a fake name for herself, because her husband is the hero’s best friend, and if she gives a fake name, then he’ll never connect the dots. It’s not like he’ll ever meet his best friend’s wife in his entire life, right? And what in the world was wrong with saying exactly who Cassandra was? This was never answered to my satisfaction.
From what I gather of the fake names used by Cassandra and Lucy, it is supposed to be a historical romance nod to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. FYI: The book is nothing like it in plot, voice, or spirit. The names seemed to be thrown in without any further logic to it.
Still, I wanted to read on, because I liked the name Julian a lot because Cassandra had genuine regard for Julian and Julian seemed to have genuine regard for Cassandra, who wrote him constantly while he was at war. This trope has been accomplished with a fair amount of success in the past. Why do we need this outrageously stupid manufactured misunderstanding that serves zero purpose? Can we not just see two nice people fall in love, without needless deceit involved?
All the inane subterfuge was stressful as hell, and I couldn’t truly appreciate the story. It’s as though every interaction between the hero and heroine had a dark cloud over it, and within the dark cloud, red blinking flashbulbs spelled out, “Lying, lying, lying.” When you have a dark cloud with red blinking lightbulbs flashing “Lying, lying, lying” over the character’s heads whenever they speak, it’s a bit hard to appreciate their interactions—not that there was much to appreciate in any case, because the whole novel seemed phoned in. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but I don’t know what else to say about a story chock-full of misunderstandings and without a drop of intelligence for anyone.
Just when I thought you were in on the joke, with your characters berating Lucy and Cassandra for their stupid ploy, you just waved your authoring hands and everyone went along with it. No, I’m serious:
“So, let me see if I have the right of it. You’re telling me that you’ve staged this entire house party as a means to get Julian to fall in love with Cass?”
Lucy nodded. “Yes.”
“Only he doesn’t know she’s Cass?” Jane continued.
“Right,” Lucy said. “Though that will be easily clarified later.”
Jane blinked at Lucy. “How exactly do you see that being successful?”
“Details, Jane, details. We’ll worry about that particular bit when the time comes.”
And that time didn’t come for two-thirds of the novel. The agony was intensified by the fact that the hero, who was in love with the heroine, heard that she was in love with a man and never considered it might be himself, so he got angry and surly and my god, make it stop.
The entirety of The Accidental Countess can be summed up in this exchange:
JULIAN: “I’m back from war! Where’s Penelope?”
CASSANDRA: “She doesn’t want to see you, even though you’re practically engaged.”
JULIAN: “That’s the thing: I don’t want to marry her anymore.”
CASSANDRA: “Oh, that works out beautifully!”
JULIAN: “Who are you, again?”
CASSANDRA: “Your best friend and faithful letter-writer, Cassandra.”
JULIAN: “Cassandra! I love you! Marry me!”
CASSANDRA: “I love you, too, Julian! I have always loved you!!”
-commence sex scene-
The entire story could have been stopped in its tracks with that one exchange in the first chapter. There is nothing else in it. Worthy of a novelette, perhaps, or a novella if you try hard, but when nothing stands between the characters except stupidity, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and general jiggery-pokery, you’re not going to have a novel that reads well.
I should have known. All the Amazon reviews were four and five stars, with effusive praise for the brilliance of the novel. When will you learn, Suzanne? This is your own fault. Now, slap yourself again.