Lisa Kleypas is a whiz at creating dark, tortured heroes with heavy amounts of baggage and issues that can’t be swept away with ONE powerful bout of mad-true-love-sexin’ with the heroine. No, Kleypas’ heroes are soooo damaged that they require at least two or three bouts of mad-true-love-sexin’. One of the trademarks of a dark, tortured hero is that he will do anything for the heroine—even shove her away for her own good—but is often an unyielding, unbelievable, intolerable douchenozzle to everyone else. He is obsessed with the heroine: he will steal for her, kill for her, and even give up his own worthless life for her—for what good is his own life if he fails to secure her welfare? (goddamn it, that awful Percy Sledge song is playing full-blast in a loop inside my skull now.) I suppose that’s all supposed to be romantic and stuff, but can you imagine being the subject of one dude’s every waking thought and fantasy? He has no hobbies except a creepy habit of sitting by your bed and watching you sleep, can’t talk about anything else but you, and has plotted every second of his obsessive existence around you. He dogs your every step; he’s there every time you look over your shoulder, trying to touch your hair or breathe the very air you exhale. That’s not romantic, that’s stalkerrific! As the Bitches say in their brand-spankin’ new book Beyond Heaving Bosoms:
Why is it that romance readers can tolerate any number of crazed behaviors from a romance hero, whereas if a real life dude did one-tenth of a hero’s dastardly deeds [...] she’d be calling 911 faster than you can say “restraining order”?
And that is why the hero, Kev Merripen, a savage wild child who might as well have been raised by wolves but was taken in by a kind, genteel family, does not quite work for me. He didn’t rev up my engines, he didn’t get my motor running. Instead, he creeped me out. He is one disturbed dude who would have wallpapered the walls of his bedroom with pictures of the heroine if he had a digital camera and could capture every second of her life. He seemed one step away from slaughtering small animals and laying them at her feet in sacrifice. *shudder* That’s so not hot.
And who is the poor object of this crazy man’s obsession? Why, that would be the beautiful, delicate, and sickly Winnifred Hathaway. Win belongs to a family of orphans whose parents were killed when they were young, leaving the eldest sister Amelia to care for her siblings (thankfully, she married a man with lots of money in the previous book, thus ensuring that they are merely orphans, not poor ones). Amidst their merry band of brothers and sisters, loyal servants, and one Cam Rohan (who was a total hottie in the book The Devil in Winter), is Kev Merripen, a Rom (Gypsy) which the family took in when they found him half-starved, half-dead in the woods. Merripen was raised by a particularly harsh and cruel uncle who trained him to fight other little gypsy boys to the death and wouldn’t feed him if he didn’t do as he was told. He has no parents because when his mother died, his white father returned to his people and just plumb-forgot all about him. When a bunch of white people ambush his camp and Merripen is injured, his tribe leaves him for dead and soon he is found by the Hathaways. Merripen, who was born to sleep under the stars, hunt his own food, and commune with nature, isn’t the type to stick under a civilized roof for long. That is until—cue the angelic choir and trumpets, please—the beautiful, blond, oh-so-fragile Winnifred Hathaway walks into his bedroom like a fairy princess made out of unicorn fart and spun sugar and Lisa Frank stickers and a tube of pink glitter you can buy at Clare’s and tells him to stay put because she will now take care of him. Merripen’s initial reaction to Win should have raised red flags all over the place: he is struck with a compulsion to grab her and wrap his arms and legs around her so she can’t get away and stroke her pretty, pretty hair, while crooning, “My precioussssssssssssss…”
Win, who must have read Wuthering Heights eleventy billion times and thought Heathcliff was the most romantic, yummilicious hero ever, is equally enamoured with Merripen. She wants to roll around in bed with him and cradle him to her chest and whisper things in his ear like everything’s going to be all right and have lots of sexin’ with him, but she can’t. Like spun sugar and Faberge eggs and fake Barbie dolls stamped with MADE IN CHINA on their butts, Win is very breakable. When she was younger, a bout of scarlet fever struck the town and killed a bunch of people (including the wife of her brother, whose story I’m almost positive is coming up next), Win herself was afflicted and she was left with a very weak heart running low on batteries. Win’s battle with scarlet fever, in fact, brings the most shiver-inducing moment of the book: a gypsy cure calls for a dose of foxglove, which Merripen serves to the dying Win, but he make an extra-large batch, so that he could take the stuff Romeo-style if the foxglove ended up killing Win instead of breaking her fever. Is that creepy or romantic? You be the judge. Because of Win’s heart condition, she is not only unattainable by the likes of Merripen who has no name, no money, and has dirty, dirty gypsy hands, but now, she also cannot be sexed up lest she is crushed by the intensity of Merripen’s sweet, savage, gypsy love. It is a love that can never be and everyone haz a sad. Win, who is determined to jump into bed with Merripen and be impaled upon his mighty, glistening, so gigantic-it-could-kill-you shaft, decides she will go to Paris and brave a risky medical procedure and come back all shiny and new and healthy and deserving of Merripen’s shagging. Merripen begs her not to go, Win tells him she will stay if he says I LOVE YOU WINNIFRED HATHAWAY, but Merripen doesn’t feel he is worthy enough to say the words let alone think them, so Win goes, and Merripen’s cold, black, dead heart becomes that much colder, blacker, and deader when Win stone-cold leaves him.
Three years later, Win comes back from Paris with her handsome, debonaire, sophisticated doctor, Dr. Julian Harrow in tow (you know, that name made my sequel bait alarm go off. I was wrong. WTF?!?!). Merripen, who has been biding his time being the Hathaways’ best estate manager ever and oh, sleeping with women of loose morals, is crazier than ever for Win, but doesn’t believe he is good enough for her (not that he thinks anyone else is, either). He is instantly suspicious of the good doctor, acts like a damned fool deprived of his favorite toy at every opportunity, but doesn’t have the balls to claim Win for his own because 1) he has dirty dirty gypsy hands 2) he has a dark super-sikreth-past that he is afraid will contaminate Win somehow, and 3) he thinks his mad-crazy-love for her will crush her like a pancake because it’s, like, so super-intense, you don’t even know! Bitch, please! Why don’t you lock yourself up in the tower and listen to some Morrissey while cradling your Emily the Strange doll to your chest and cutting yourself from time to time just to see if you still feel. Whatever is causing the Joan Collins ‘tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it. Merripen’s emo playlist spun me right round baby right round until I had to put down the book for a second or hurl. The dude had three modes: 1) brood about his unworthiness of Win 2) growl and act like a caveman when Win talks to other creatures possessing a penis 3) shove Win away because he is not worthy, oh no, so young girl, get out of my mind.
Win, for the most part, takes it all in stride. She has a good sense of humor, doesn’t put up with too much of Merripen’s bullshit, and is brave enough to push back from time to time. She has the determination to live her life the way she sees fit and the tenacity to go after what she wants, which doesn’t happen too often in Historical Romancelandia as it is saturated by doormat heroines who allow their so-called heroes who run roughshod over them and call the shots. Considering she is supposed to be this frail, delicate thing, she REALLY wants her to get it on with her man and will do just about anything to get ‘er done. It’s really too bad that her character is basically overshadowed by Merripen’s big pity party, since she really is very pleasant to read about. Sure, there has to be something wrong with her that she is drawn to rather than RUNNING AWAY SCREAMING FROM Merripen’s demented obsession of her, but I like this heroine. I think she deserved better than to be a supporting character in her OWN ROMANCE NOVEL. But, as it is, her star is eclipsed by Merripen, and this entire book is saturated with Merripen, Merripen, Merripen. I can’t believe I’m actually typing this, but I really wish that this book had more Win, more heroine-POV. Oddly enough, this book also suffered from too much Win… that is, from Merripen’s POV. His thoughts about how beautiful, how delicate she is, how utterly undeserving he is of her page after page… okay, dude, I get it. Why didn’t he just do them all a favor and leave, if he thought he was too dangerous and too dark and too… primal in his deep, deep desires?
While I enjoyed this latest offering from Lisa Kleypas (frankly, I enjoy her historicals a lot more than her contemporaries), I thought this book suffered from way too much hero. Yes, I know Kleypas is famous for her heroes (Derek Craven, Justin Vallerand, and Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent come to mind) and when it all comes down to it, most romance novels are more focused on building up a swoon-worthy, dark, dangerous hero more than anything, but here is one instance where I really want to say: let’s hear it FROM the girl. By the end of the book, I was so annoyed by Merripen that the big honking deus-ex-machina ending didn’t even faze me and I was like, “yeah, ok… BUT OF COURSE HE IS!” I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, though since the Hathaway brother seems to be a jolly sort of fella even with the DEAD WIFE in his past and I think I’m going to hunt down the previous book, which I didn’t read because Cam didn’t get paired up with
Annabelle Daisy like I wanted, but Win’s sister Amelia in this book seems like the no-nonsense heroine I enjoy.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
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