Hero: Duncan West, aka Jamie Croft
Heroine: Lady Georgiana Pearson, aka Anna, aka Chase
|Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover|
I love the cover of this book. In an awful twist of irony, I did not love the book. I should have heeded the title's warning.
Here are reasons why I did not like it:
• Georgiana has made appearances in the previous books of the series, as Chase. She is an established character. I saw her as a strong, confident, ballsy woman. The best scoundrel of them all. But in her own book–where she should shine–she came across as an insecure, subdued mess. Sure, she had moments of confidence, but they were overshadowed by her ridiculous moments of uncertainty. One example: in the scene where she touches Duncan's penis, he tells her to stop, and she misunderstands, thinking she's doing it wrong due to her inexperience; this comes moments after she teases him, refusing to open her legs to him in a power play of sensual sorts. She should have been able to recognize arousal in his voice; her sudden insecurity was lame, especially given the fact she was able to pass herself off as a courtesan for six years.
• Duncan was in earlier books, too. In fact, there was a scene where he was playing cards with Anna, aka Georgiana. The two had done business together the past six years. If any member of the Fallen Angel was likely to see past Georgiana's disguise (she wore a wig, makeup, and a low-cut dress as Anna), it would be Duncan. But he didn't realize Georgiana was Anna until he followed her carriage from a society event to the club and saw Georgiana emerge as her Anna persona. I'd like to point out that he wasn't following Georgiana on purpose; he was merely on his way to his club. He was surprised when her carriage didn't turn toward her brother's home, and started watching more closely, but he didn't use any powers of deduction to stumble upon Georgiana's alter ego. That made him look like an idiot, in my opinion, especially when you consider his profession (newspaper magnate).
• Georgiana's quest to marry a title irritated me on several levels. 1) She claimed to be doing it for her daughter, but never asked her precocious daughter what she actually wanted. 2) She wasn't a fan of the ton. She had been using them for financial gain, learning their secrets, and exploiting their weaknesses for years. 3) She planned to run off and marry her lover Jonathan, a stablehand: "Georgiana didn't care. She was going to be Mrs. Jonathan Tavish. She wouldn't even keep the 'Lady' to which she was entitled. She didn't want it. She only wanted him." If she had married him, their children wouldn't have any titles. I don't buy the argument that as a bastard, Caroline would need a stepfather with a title to lend her prestige. Money could buy her a husband, and Georgiana had plenty of that. After all, isn't that why Georgiana gave herself such a large dowry? And read this passage that discusses Duncan's sister: "Cynthia West. A pretty girl, welcome in Society despite her lack of breeding. West's money had purchased her support." The quote is from Georgiana's consciousness, and it made her own assertions that her daughter needed a titled stepfather ridiculous.
• Duncan's desire to protect his sister would have held more weight if we saw more of Cynthia than a scene or two. She was described as intelligent, bold, unruly, and cheerful. If she was a shrinking violet, it might have made sense to shield her from her parentage and evil half-brother. She wasn't a child; she was eighteen. Why didn't Duncan sit her down and tell her about their past? Why wasn't Cynthia herself more curious about their parents?
• Georgiana's motives regarding her daughter seemed erratic. She raised Caroline for the first four years of her life, and then just turned her over to Caroline's uncle? Now she was willing to marry just so her daughter could have a "normal" life and a chance at a "good" marriage? She made the decision to form the Fallen Angel. She left her daughter with her brother and his family so she could run a club to learn secrets about the aristocracy and shatter their glass houses? She realized her neglect when Caroline was confused by a surprise visit, but instead of sharing her workload with her partners or stepping down to spend more time with her daughter, she jumped into the social season to land a titled husband. It didn't make sense. Her behavior was inconsistent.
Even though I did not like the book, I didn't quit. I kept plodding right along. I hoped the ending would resolve some issues, or at least appease my disappointment. It didn't. Ugh. I don't know if I'm just super irritable and uncharitable right now, but the ending was as disappointing as the majority of the book. Perhaps I just hold Ms. MacLean up to a higher standard; I enjoyed the first three books of the series.
Here's why I didn't like the ending:
• Duncan realized Georgiana was Chase moments before she told him herself near the end of the book. I think that was a lost opportunity. First, if he could figure it out then, he should have been able to figure it out sooner; he didn't have more information then than he did earlier. Second, an earlier reveal would have allowed the couple to spend more time on the idea that Chase was super powerful. Maybe Duncan would feel emasculated. How could he protect the all-powerful Chase? Would he even need to? Would he feel superfluous? Would Georgiana overstep and try to tell him how to run his newspapers? Would they have power struggles outside of the bedroom? Third, why didn't Georgiana lie and say her brother was Chase? It would have placated West in some aspects, while highlighting how he good of a brother he was ("I saved my sister from the Tremley's") compared to poor Georgiana's (fictitious) experience with her brother ("He let you pose as a whore?! That's whore-ible!"). That lie could cause plenty of conflict, especially since Georgiana's brother gave her the money to open the club (he was actually a good brother).
• Georgiana's plan to reveal Anna as Chase was not the smart plan for which I hoped. It was nice that all her friends and employees chimed in that they were Chase. It was endearing, but a bit too much "I am Spartacus!" to be original. Georgiana could have just said there was no Chase; he was an amalgamation of the three public owners. Lame, sure, but at least it wasn't stupid: Here I am! If Anna was revealed to be Chase, people would have taken a closer look at Anna and discovered her other identity: Lady Georgiana Pearson. Georgiana was trying to repair her reputation throughout the book. It didn't make sense that she would jeopardize that by drawing more attention to herself as the (pretend) prostitute Anna.
• The villain gets shot. Well, that's the end of that conflict. West can marry anyone he wants now without worry about saddling them with his past. His sister's illegitimacy won't come out. No wondering if Tremley had proof squirreled away somewhere. Just "ding, dong, the witch is dead."
I called the scene where the villain was shot a farce, and here are the reasons why I feel that it was:
• Everybody up on the tables. It just seems wrong, and a bit ridiculous.
• The "I am Chase" announcement, followed by all the other claims of being Chase.
• Tremley's sudden tantrum came out of nowhere. He was established as a wife beater, but there wasn't any indication that he would suddenly draw attention to himself in such a crowd by being a hothead. He came across as manic.
• Georgiana's eyes were full of fear because of Tremley's question "What is [West's] name?" Why does she have to be such a timid character? Why?
• Tremley gets shot, and Georgiana's main concern is protecting Lady Tremley? So she (and her partners) blackmail their entire clientele, threatening to reveal their secrets if the truth about how Lady Tremley shot her husband in cold blood becomes public? Even West pipes up that he'll print their secrets in his papers if they squeal about Lady Tremley. It was nice they cared about Lady T–, but I didn't. The Fallen Angels could have made up whatever story they wanted; the police would have believed it, especially since the club belonged to the "all-powerful" Chase. It would have made more sense to offer a police detective membership in the club than to blackmail their entire clientele.
Now I will quibble about minor issues I had:
• After having sex, West "cleaned" Georgiana. I don't like any reference of cleaning after sex, but it seemed even more creepy since West was slightly obsessed with being clean since he was dirty as a young boy.
• Georgiana let West spill his seed inside her. She consciously made the choice to gamble on getting pregnant. With one daughter already born out of wedlock, her begging him to come inside of her seemed irresponsible.
• In the epilogue, there was a reference to the eight people playing a card game; at most there could only have been seven because Bourne didn't play.
• Duncan has corresponded with "Chase" and seen "his" handwriting. Georgiana writes him a note as herself, and he doesn't recognize the handwriting. No mention was made of her trying to disguise her handwriting. No mention of the similarities of the handwriting.