Thursday, June 02, 2011

"Dark Angel / Lord Carew's Bride," by Mary Balogh

Dark Angel

The Chick: Jennifer Winwood. Betrothed to a neighbouring lord since she was fifteen, she's eager to enter into marriage with him while enjoying her first proper Season.
The Rub: Despite his horrid reputation, the dastardly Earl of Thornhill insists on ensnaring her attention in ways her fiance can't.
Dream Casting: Bryce Dallas Howard.

The Dude: Gabriel Fisher, Earl of Thornhill. Society believes he impregnated his own father's wife and fled with her to the Continent out of shame - but he's returned to England to punish the real man responsible.
The Rub: What better way to punish the scoundrel who seduced his stepmother than by seducing his beautiful, pure fiancee, Jennifer Winwood?
Dream Casting: Ian Somerhalder.

The Plot:

Jennifer: I can't wait to meet my lovely fiance who is totally not a secret douchebag!

Gabriel: I can't wait to ruin the secret douchebag who porked my stepmum by seducing his lovely fiancee! Jennifer, look into my eyes, I am so tortured and and alone...*bedroom eyes*

Jennifer: *mesmerised* I will do whatever you say.

Gabriel: Cool.

Jennifer: Wait. Something's not right.

Douchebag Fiance: Hey look, Gabriel left a secret letter that totally mentions how he's been banging my lady this entire time. The fact that this secret letter's written in my own handwriting is of no account!

Gabriel: Guess we have to get married then!

Jennifer: I HATE YOU.

Gabriel: Love you too, I'm off t0 kick My Lord Douchebag's ass!

My Lord Douchebag: *is revealed to be a douchebag8

Jennifer: Okay, I love you again now.

Gabriel: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist

2 Ruined Reputations
1 Secret Baby
1 Almost Secondary Romance
1 Caning (Unsexy Variety)
The Word:
So, I was having kind of a downer week, feeling frustrated with romance, and I decided to pick up a Mary Balogh novel, because usually nothing wakes me up out of my reading slump like Balogh.

Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride are the somewhat-connected short novels about the romantic misadventures of two cousins, Jennifer Winwood and Samantha Newman, and their run-ins with My Lord Douchebag, Lord Kersey.

In Dark Angel, Jennifer is actually engaged to My Lord Douchebag and has been since she was fifteen, only she thinks he's My Lord Awesomeness. Experiencing her first Season rather late (at twenty), she's still eager to go to all the balls and dances and social events before becoming My Lady Awesomeness.

However, Gabriel, Earl Thornhill, wants revenge against My Lord Douchebag. Years ago, My Lord Douchebag seduced, impregnated, and abandoned Gabriel's young stepmother, leaving Gabriel to take the rap when he escorted her to the Continent to escape the scandal. Now he's back, a social pariah, and he's determined to make My Lord Douchebag pay for what he did - and he sets his sights on the scoundrel's young, innocent fiancee as the means to this end.

All this sounds well and good, and to his credit, Gabriel is very subtle with his seduction of Jennifer, but the main flaw in this story is that it really is too subtle and Jennifer looks like a doormat whenever she gives in. She repeatedly gives Gabriel leave to dance with her, touch her, get her alone, and kiss her and all because she somehow believes she has no other option but to do as he says or look terribly rude.

This being Mary Balogh, the writing is lovely and the characters are, for the most part, rational people, but story is a little unfocused. Again, the heroine comes across as a bit spineless as the hero leads her a merry chase, and when real scandal unfolds, her motivations for her following decisions are almost comically shallow. However, this story gains points for having a heroine who is genuinely is love with someone who is not the hero (even though he turns out to be My Lord Douchebag).

All in all, a pleasant but unremarkable read. B

Lord Carew's Bride
The Chick: Samantha Newman. The younger cousin of Jennifer Winwood, she swore off love after a devastating heartbreak in her past. But nothing's wrong with a platonic friendship with harmless gardener Hartley Wade.The Rub: When that particular heartbreak from her past returns to haunt her, she decides a happy, passionless marriage to Hartley will keep her safe - but what if love and passion find her, regardless?
Dream Casting: Rosamund Pike.

The Dude:
Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew. A bit of a recluse as well as a cripple, he never thought he'd earn the affections of a gorgeous, sophisticated woman like Samantha Newman.The Rub: However, the woman he loves comes with Boyfriend Baggage that hits surprisingly close to home.Dream Casting: Lee Pace.

The Plot:

Samantha: No more love for me! Tra la la, life is so simple and uncomplicated!

Hartley: Why, hello there. Let's be friends. *in head* OMG a girl is talking to me, a real girl, she's so pretty, I love her hair, she smells nice, but not in the pervy way, does she have a boyfriend? Is it too early to propose? She smells nice.

Samantha: Wow! Spending time with you is so much fun! *in head* He's so sweet and caring and nice and fun to spend time with and considerate and respectful - gee, it's a good thing I don't find him attractive in the least or else this would be really complicated!

Samantha: Oh, look at the time, I have to get back to London! *in head* Complicated feelings are complicated.

Hartley: Have a good time then. *in head* SHIT, better get my ass down to London!

In London

Earl Douchebag: Hey sweet cheeks! Nice legs, what time are they open?

Samantha: Oh, crap.

Hartley: Well, hey! Fancy running into you in London! What a crazy random happenstance! Did I mention I want to marry you, and that I'm secretly a marquess?

Samantha: Sure, whatever. Let's get married.

Hartley: YES. *in head* YES YES YES YES *EPIC FISTBUMP* By the way, care to meet my cousin, Earl Douchebag?

Earl Douchebag: 'Sup. We've met. *winks*

Samantha: ... this is awkward.

Hartley: Um, if you need me, I'm going to be in my chambers writhing in the agony of embarrassed despair.

Earl Douchebag: Mwahahaha!

Hartley: No, wait, I've decided I'm going to be kicking you in the face instead, because I am a secret bad-ass street fighter!

Earl Douchebag: *royally ass-kicked*

Samantha: You are so awesome. *in head* I was in love with him the whole time. Who knew? I just got Shyamalan'd.

Hartley: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist

The Word:
Now, while "Lord Carew's Bride" is even lower in conflict than "Dark Angel," I found I enjoyed this short novel immensely.

Back in "Dark Angel," Samantha Newman, Jennifer Winwood's cousin, was seduced by My Lord Douchebag who thought he could use her feelings for him to influence Jennifer into breaking their betrothal. When a lovesick Samantha nevertheless refused, My Lord Douchebag threw her off and found other, less ethical means of breaking his engagement to Jennifer. Guilty, heartbroken, and ashamed, Samantha swore off love.

Six years later, despite entering into a seventh Season surrounded by loving admirers, Samantha has retained her independence, although her enjoyment of city life has begun to wear a little thin. While visiting Jennifer and her husband in the country, Samantha slips away for some precious alone time and strikes up a friendship on the neighbouring estate with a young gentleman with a crippled arm and leg whom she takes to be a gardener. She enjoys his company immensely, albeit in a platonic way, but when circumstances force her to return to London after four afternoons together, she feels the loss surprisingly keenly.

Unbeknownst to her, the "gardener" is actually the reclusive, shy, and adorably-Beta Marquess of Carew. Crippled by a childhood "accident" and yet owner of one of the wealthiest estates in England, Hartley decided not to correct Samantha's assumption that he was a gardener for fear of losing her genuine affection. However, it takes him all of five seconds to fall head over heels in love with her, so when Samantha returns to London he decides to follow her.

More drama arrives in the form of My Lord Douchebag, now Earl of Douchebag, who has returned from his exile on the Continent after his father's death. He almost immediately renews his attentions towards Samantha, who is alternately terrified/attracted to him. Fearing her old torch for him may reignite with disastrous consequences, she recklessly accepts Hartley's sudden marriage proposal, thinking a safe, passionless marriage will protect her from Earl Douchebag's insidious influence. No dice: Douchebag and Hartley are actually cousins, with a shady history of their own.

The main reason I enjoyed this story so much is due to Hartley - a sweeter, more self-effacing and yet brave Beta hero I have yet to meet. He is adorable. He is, in fact, such a lovely, beautiful man that I often found myself getting annoyed with the heroine, who spends much of the story in heavy Denial regarding how Perfect Hartley is. She says how thankful she is that Hartley isn't attractive more than once. She marries him to protect herself with little regard to his feelings and fails to realize until it's too late that he's crazy in love with her. She's not a bad person or a badly developed character, and she comes around in a truly subtle and realistic way in the end, but during these times of cluelessness I just felt so bad for Hartley.

But Beta doesn't mean weak, and Hartley finally gets to avenge both his wife and his childhood enmity with Cousin Douchebag in a truly awesome scene. For this one, I give it a high B+.