Sunday, January 09, 2011

"The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount," by Julia London

The Chick: Lady Phoebe Fairchild, a.k.a. "Madame Dupree." For years, this well-bred lady secretly worked in trade by sewing fashionable gowns - but now a shopkeeper's threatening to expose her secret unless she accepts a commission to make gowns for a country lord.
The Rub: A very handsome country lord! Too bad his family is crazy and she has to pretend she's a servant!
Dream Casting: Carey Mulligan.

The Dude: William Darby, Viscount Summerfield. Thanks to his father's stroke, he's forced to cut short his six-year-long trip of the Continent and come home to take care of his mentally deranged family.
The Rub: But he's just so distracted by the hot new seamstress!
Dream Casting: Kris Holden-Ried.

The Plot:

Phoebe: I have to make dresses for Viscount Summerfield's bitchy sisters or an evil shopkeeper will tell everyone I dabbled in trade! Woe!

Will, Viscount Summerfield: I can't explore the world and ignore my responsibilities because my dad's had a stroke and my siblings need to eat! Woe!

Frieda: I'm a slutty secondary servant character who has a lot of sex and might be pregn ---

Will: WOE! Did I mention WOE?! I am TERRIBLE at EVERYTHING! Nobody LISTENS TO ME! My siblings have the combined impulse control of a monkey fuelled by chocolate-covered espresso beans!

Caroline Fitzherbert: Hey, I'm a slightly snooty romantic rival who might have a crush on the hero's brother inst---

Phoebe: So much WOE! I must sew ALL THESE GOWNS for sisters who are SEVERELY developmentally-challenged! How am I going to find the TIME to have SEX with WILL???

Joshua, Will's Brother: Hey, I do a lot of asshole, illegal things that are strongly implied to be a result of a Deep Dark Pain - but will my story get resolved or anythi--

Will: NOT IMPORTANT. I'm in love with a SERVANT! Your subplots DO NOT MATTER.

Joshua, Frieda, Caroline: *embarrassed silence*

Phoebe: Ahem - Surprise! I'm not a servant!

Will: YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIES! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN - for a half-dozen pages.

Phoebe: *flips through* We okay now?

Will: Yup.

Phoebe: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Scandalous Tattoo

4 Effed-Up Siblings

1 Horny Smithy

Several Wild Horses

1 Angry Bitchslap

1 Snooty Romantic Rival

1 Sprained Ankle

1 Slutty Maid

Several Lovely Gowns

1 Secondary-ish Romanc-ish

The Word: If I had to describe this book is one word, or rather, two words connected by a hyphen, it would be half-baked. I like Julia London, I do - despite her casual grasp of history in her romance novels, she usually nails emotional drama like nobody's business. Even when her books go completely insane in the membrane, there's enough of a kick that even a terrible book can be entertaining.

Not so here.

The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount is the final book in the Desperate Debutantes series, following The Hazards of Hunting a Duke (which was lovely), and The Perils of Persuing a Prince (which was crazy and nonsensical, but still somewhat entertaining, in the way watching a baby hit another baby with a stick is entertaining).

But everything in Dangers just seems so haphazard, loosely connected and unfinished, that I couldn't take much enjoyment even from its silliness. But let me explain.

Way back at the beginning of the series, sisters Phoebe and Ava and cousin Greer were left penniless by a douchebag stepfather when their mother died. While the ever-practical Ava and Greer found rich, angsty guys to marry, Phoebe made ball gowns. By herself. Yes. Gorgeous, amazingly fashionable and complex ball gowns, with a high enough rate of production to make a decent name for herself. A fake name (Madame Dupree), but a name none the less.

Okay, filing that away under Completely Implausible, let's continue - now that Phoebe's sisters are Mrs. Rich and Angsty, she doesn't really need to continue dabbling in trade but she does so anyway because she likes it - until the shop keeper she's been selling the dresses with catches on to her scheme and blackmails her into accepting a commission to spend the summer as the personal modiste for the Darby family in Bedfordshire.

Meanwhile, Will Darby, Viscount Summerfield has spent the last six years Peter Pan-ing across several continents until he receives a letter that his father has suffered a stroke. It takes him about three months to get home - only to find his estate in shambles and his family transformed into a pack of rabid hobos because with his father catatonic, no one else had access to his money. This kicks his Angsty Guilt into overdrive and he initiates a number of measures to bring the Darby name back up to snuff - and that includes new wardrobes for his sisters.

Phoebe arrives at the country estate and finds that being a servant is hard work, y'all. Especially when the sisters she has to fit and sew for are Rabid Hobos who act like screaming, sobbing, over-caffeinated 12-year-olds. Frankly, Phoebe thinks they're spoiled little bitches, but her assessment unexpectedly coincides with Will's own frustration with his crazy-ass family. Well hey, our hero and heroine have something in common!

The thing is, Phoebe and Will's romance isn't very interesting - she's all whine whine our love can never be because I am a lying liar who lies, I'm compelled to home-decorate and flower-arrange for no reason, plus BTW work is hard, he's all whine whine I just want to be freeee, the walls are closing in, why do my siblings act like drunk retarded monkeys, BTW having a boner all the time for a serving girl is hard. Occasionally it's broken up by some deluded self-righteous lecturing on Phoebe's part that Will is just too much of a meanie to his slutty, dishonest, cheating, thieving siblings, or some really ham-handed and obvious seduction on Will's part. Rinse and repeat.

So I can see why the author would try to spice up the rest of the story with oodles of wacky ridiculous subplots and characters - it's just that she doesn't back them up with any sort of common sense, the characters are cartoonishly distorted, and what's worse, most of their stories wind up suddenly resolved off-screen in the final chapters.

First of all, I didn't get Will's siblings - Joshua (21), Alice (18), Jane (17), and Roger (16). Yes, they spent 3 months without money or supervision - and yet in three months' time they somehow managed to outgrow all their clothes, lose all their furniture and servants, and lose at least sixteen years' worth of aristocratic upbringing to the point where they all need to be retrained. The Swiss Family Robinson they are not.

There's no real explanation for the siblings' mysterious mental degeneration, and there's no real character development here either. Alice and Jane are present mainly to make "lowly servant girl" Phoebe look like Princess Grace in comparison. Joshua, meanwhile, is a completely wasted character who pulls off self-destructive stunts like stealing horses, gambling, and cheating at cards - in Regency England, these weren't silly japes, but serious offenses. Cheating at cards, in particular, would have been enough to leave him ostracized for life - and it certainly wasn't be the kind of crime one could simply "buy off," the way William does.

But why is Joshua doing all this, and why is he so hostile to William? Well, the novel very briefly suggests a secondary romance between him and Phoebe's closest romantic rival, Caroline - but then Joshua and Caroline are suddenly married off-screen, with no explanation for Joshua's behaviour, no outright solution to his (apparently) deep personal problems, no real build-up or description of his attraction to Caroline and vice versa.

Most of the other siblings' problems are resolved in a similar manner - in a "What a lovely epilogue, did I mention my insane slutty sister married some random dude so that whole scandal where she dry-humped a smithy in the gazebo is totally a thing of the past, try the quiche it's delicious" way. Truth be told, the pat conclusions irritated me more than the silliness. It's as if once the main story ended, the author saw no point in even trying with the subplots. They were just the car keys dangled in front of my face to keep me interested.

Subplots matter. Conclusions matter. Secondary characters matter - especially these ones, as Will's primary motivation is to help bring them together, and yet all their problems wind up conveniently solved by random happenstance rather than any action on the hero's part. As a result, The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount is easily the weakest book of the trilogy.


  1. I first read Joshua's line as 'I do a lot of asshole *full pause*'

    Also, CAR KEYS!! I hate that trick.

  2. "You sit on a throne of lies" must be adopted for general use. That right there is worth price of admission alone.

  3. Dang, I gotta read this book now just so I can see Will "having a boner all the time for a serving girl is hard".

    Love these reviews!

  4. Vorkosigrrl1:34 PM

    ROFLMAO. I'm sure your review was much more entertaining than the book. Bravo.

  5. Claire2:42 PM

    Hello, Claire here, delurking. Lol, "In the way that watching a baby hit another baby with a stick is entertaining". I was considering this one, but your excellent review has steered me away.