Alternative Title: The Rakehell, the Wench, and the Wardrobe
The Chick: Lucy Waltham. A tomboyish, free-spirited young woman, she's desperately in love with Sir Toby Aldridge. The only problem is, he's set to marry another. Lucy won't take defeat lying down, however - she's determined to use any means necessary to win Toby for herself, even if that means practicing her wiles on cold-as-ice Jeremy Trescott, her older brother's BFF.
The Rub: Jeremy starts wiling right back, proving he's not nearly the human glacier she's taken him for.
Dream Casting: Sense & Sensibility's Charity Wakefield.
The Dude: Jeremy Trescott, Earl of Kendall. He knows that Lucy's love for Toby is not returned, and wants to protect his best friend's sister from heartbreak. However, Jeremy risks his own heartbreak - Lucy's almost impossible to resist, especially since she keeps throwing herself at him to "practice" for Toby.
The Rub: He has a sad, secret past. Also, she's his best friend's sister, which means touching her breaks at least six rules of the Universal Guy Code.
Dream Casting: Jake Gyllenhaal.
Lucy: Toby, Toby, Toby...
Jeremy: He doesn't love you, you know.
Lucy: LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING....Toby, Toby, Toby...wanna make out?
Jeremy and Lucy: *smooch*
Jeremy: Lucy, Lucy, Lucy....dammit!
Lucy: Toby, Toby, Jeremy...dammit!
Lucy and Jeremy: *married*
Lucy: Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy...
Jeremy: Angst, angst, angst...
Lucy: I love you, you know.
Jeremy: LA LA LA, I'M NOT LISTENING, I'M TOO ANGSTY.
Jeremy and Lucy: *sexx0r*
Jeremy: Lucy, Lucy, Lucy.
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Angsty Hero with a Sad, Secret Past
1 Fiesty Heroine Who Hates Those Horrid Social Conventions
1 Inconveniently Dead Brother
1 Inconveniently Neglectful But Still Unfortunately Alive Brother
7 Minutes in Heaven (in an ancient wardrobe, no less!)
2 Sequel-Baits (Sophia and Toby)
1 Senile Grandma
1 Precocious Child
Several Drunken, Resentful Tenants
The Plot: Lucy Waltham has been in love with Sir Toby Aldridge for eight years. For eight years she tagged along with her brother Henry and his sexy manfriends Felix, Jeremy, and Toby as they did their sexy manthings every autumn at her bro's estate. Their sexy mancircle has weakened over the years thanks to Felix's and Henry's marriages, and now Sir Toby's set to propose to Sophia Hathaway, a perfectly-perfect blond beauty.
Lucy's all "like HELL he will" and is determined to seduce Toby away by any means necessary. She's nineteen and hawt, but untried, so one night she decides to launch her unpracticed goodies in Jeremy's direction so that she can approach Toby with a measure of experience. She thinks Jeremy's a prickly, stern stick-in-the-mud with all the sexuality of a starched linen napkin and if she can raise his flag, well, Toby's bound to give her a twenty-one gun salute!
Jeremy's all, "that bitch be CRAZY" but becomes crazy in lust with her nonetheless. However, he also cares for her and believes the glorious happy ending she thinks she's dashing towards is really the edge of a cliff. Toby, while a generally good dude, definitely doesn't return Lucy's feelings and is quite enamoured with his not-yet-fiancee. To try and persuade Lucy from her headlong dive into inevitable heartache, Jeremy starts shadowing her and sabotaging her childish quests for attention.
Goddess of the Hunt runs with two romantic cliches that normally get on my nerves: the spirited, feisty heroine who's allergic to Regency social norms and the gloomy hero who thinks he's too dirty and evil to deserve happiness. However, romance is a genre that is built on cliches and the best writers can not only overcome them, but use them in an entertaining way that demonstrates how they became popular enough to be cliches in the first place.
In my case, for an author to engage me with a cliche they must first 1) provide a reasonable motivation for the cliche to exist in the first place and 2) do something new with it. It doesn't have to be narratively - we all know the Sensuous Virgin isn't going to remain a Virgin for ever - but thematically, psychologically, or symbolically the author should create something fresh and unique. Mary Balogh is terrific at this.
And so, it seems, is Tessa Dare. After reading the first chapter excerpt at RWA, I was all set to hate Lucy, who came off as yet another infantalized, foot-stomping, anachronistically-feminist nuisance. However, she's an infantalized, foot-stomping, anachronistically-feminist nuisance who willingly puts herself in a very un-feminist position. She's in love with a man, and she's willing to use all of her feisty spiritedness to be the most submissive, proper, girly-girl wife ever. She will do anything for Sir Toby, even suppress her own personality, and sweet Jeebus, it is Oh So Wrong, in the Best Way.
It's much the same with Jeremy. We have yet another Mad, Bad Hero who's afraid his ugly, dirty bear-hands will smoosh his beloved's marshmellow face. Instead of being towering and imposing with his Extra-Strength Masculinity, however, he acts like the most paranoid of suburban parents, forever chasing Lucy around and bellowing at her to be careful of sharp corners and always ALWAYS look both ways before crossing the street - even as he's half-paralyzed with lust. Even as he longs to bone Lucy nine ways from Sunday, he yearns to convince her that wearing a football helmet at all times for her safety is all the rage right now. He'll even decorate that football helmet with diamonds and give her ruby-studded elbow-pads, now doesn't that sound nice?
Really, however, the main reason I found Lucy endearing and Jeremy sympathetic (instead of annoying and tiresome, respectively) is Tessa Dare's writing. There are two types of writing, I've found - Storytelling and Wordsmithing. Storytelling is when you can compose an understandable, engaging narrative. Wordsmithing is when you can uniquely string words together to create a brilliant sentence, with loving metaphors and gorgeous imagery. My favourite authors are always a mixture of both - not only can they tell a rippin' good yarn, but they can do it with such lyrical, poetic writing and turns of phrase and vibrant similes.
The majority of romances I've encountered always seem to lean more towards Storytelling, so to find one with beautiful writing as well as engaging storytelling is a real treat. Lucy's inner thoughts and struggles are so romantic and idealistic, that I quickly moved from simply tolerating her to wholeheartedly admiring her. She definitely has a bit of Anne of Green Gables' madcap charm, a charm that is sharpened by intelligence and burgeoning self-awareness. While she's a bit clueless for the first half of the novel, she really comes into her own in the second without compromising her character.
In the end, however, what keeps this novel from an A grade is Jeremy. While I enjoyed the direction Tessa Dare took with his character, he seemed a little obvious to me. By that I mean that his character is so clearly telegraphed from the beginning that I knew almost exactly how he would progress and where he would end up. He's Crazy Repressed, then he's Crazy in Lust, then He Gives Lots of Orders and Gets Angry (while still Crazy in Lust), then he Backs Off Because He's Insecure (while still Crazy in Lust), and then he's Rescued from the Pit of Despair by the Heroine (while still Crazy in Lust). Romances always have Happily Ever Afters, so I feel the suspense and excitement of romance comes the different ways in which the characters adapt and change to fit their HEA. With Jeremy, there were few (if any) surprises.
All that aside, Goddess of the Hunt is a strong debut from new author Tessa Dare, and I eagerly await her sequels, Surrender of a Siren and A Lady of Persuasion.