2.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
There are a lot of tropes and long, drawn-out misunderstandings in this novel. You’ve got the governess/companion who falls in love with the lord. Amnesia. Mistaken-assumed-identity following the amnesia. Grand, overly-dramatic misunderstandings. Well-meaning friends. Bird-witted relatives. Yeah, there’s a little bit of everything. Though both of our main protagonists have very interesting moments, the book is ultimately weighed down by deceptions that go on far, far, far too long, and misunderstandings that drag, and drag when simple, rational conversation could have solved them. Despite small moments of levity and tenderness, I was so frustrated with the protagonists (and their inability to think through their actions) that I had trouble finishing the book!
We meet Stephen Westmoreland, the younger brother of the Duke of Claymore, in Whitney, My Love. In that book, he’s a charming reprobate who helps our hero and heroine get over themselves, and get back together. Now that he’s starring in his own novel, he’s a barely reasonable alpha male who thinks he needs to control everything and everyone around him. He accidentally kills a drunk man and feels responsible for drunk man’s soon-to-arrive finance.
He goes to meet the finance, who gets in an accident of her own, and gets… amnesia.
Of course, it turns out that the amnesiac fiancee is actually the amnesiac paid companion Sheridan Bromleigh. But she doesn’t know this, and Stephen doesn’t know this. He thinks she’s the fiancee, doesn’t want to tell her his part in all of this, and proclaims that actually he (Stephen) is her fiance.
They fall in love, only to succumb to Massive Misunderstanding Trope — where he believes she was a scheming actress who was trying to climb the social ladder, and she believes he only wanted to marry her out of pity and guilt.
Now… I’m generally okay with tropes and even Massive Misunderstandings. But the problem is how long they drag on. In this case, we spend MOST of the novel under Misunderstanding #1 (where everyone believes they are someone they’re not) and as soon as she FINALLY remembers who she is, he believes she’s a lying, scheming *insert curse word here* because she ran away, rather than try to explain herself.
She becomes a paid companion, they’re separated for a while, and then she tries to “fight” for him, by sleeping with him, only to get offered a position as his mistress instead. We then enter Massive Misunderstanding #2… which is only resolved with some meddling from our supporting cast.
You end with the feeling that these are two people who aren’t ever going to be capable of talking through their own problems, and the hero’s last minute switch from hating-that-scheming-witch to omg-I’ve-misunderstood-her is comically quick (after the long, painful separation time).
What little humor there was dissipates, as does your belief that this is a couple to root for. It’s a shame, because some of the scenes are quite good…
Comparison to Other Authors:
Argh. Parts of her writing are so clean and crisp that it’s very Lisa Klepyas, Sherry Thomas, Loretta Chase. The problem is that those authors (except for Sherry Thomas who sometimes toes the line to the point of crossing) have characters that seem capable of growth. The rape-y-misogyny is very Catherine Coulter-esque, or, if you prefer, a Stephanie Laurens hero on steroids. What would be seen as over-protectiveness that the hero at least sometimes tries to rein in from a Laurens-esque Cynster male becomes totally overdone, let’s-punish-punish in McNaught’s story.