It’s only an hour or two into Twelfth Night in my part of the world, so a Christmas book is still timely. Right? Right.
I sure as hell hope so, because I still have my Christmas tree up (true story).
- Title: Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight
- Authors: Grace Burrowes
- Series: Windhams, Book 6
- Genre(s): Historical
- Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2012
- Source: NetGalley ($6.39 ebook)
- Length: 384 pages
- Trope(s): Secrets & Scandals, War Wounds, Repressed Smart Girl, Manly Men to the Rescue, Plot Moppets, Drunken Duels, Title PØrn, Shark Jumping, Misuse of Historical Personages
- Quick blurb: Long-suppressed secrets threaten marriage of duke’s daughter and gentleman farmer.
- Quick review: Everything important happens off-page, leaving plenty of space for annoyances and WTFery.
- Grade: D
He wasn’t unaffected either. There was…tumescence.
I really need to remember to take a break from historicals after reading Miranda Neville and Courtney Milan, or while anticipating a catch-up on Sherry Thomas, because everything else just seems so…so…*sigh*
Burrowes’ debut The Heir was another one of my “gateway” romances, mostly because of a certain handjob scene early in the book. But she’s never been on my auto-buy list, for reasons I really couldn’t explain. Until now.
I admire her use of language — some of her sentences are marvelous. But in between, there’s weak characterization, a lot of repetitive and Romance-O-Matic plotwork and occasionally some very ill-advised WTFery. Or, to put it bluntly, her storytelling skills leave me cold.
The waste of a perfectly promising heroine
My biggest frustration with Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight is that the literally brilliant heroine is reduced to a complete bore who is given nothing to do in the story beyond react to the men around her.
“She’s studied practically every modern European language…. She can do math in her head you and I couldn’t follow on paper…. She summarized half a millennium of Roman military strategy…knows Caesar’s letters by heart in the original and in translation…. You compose little bagatelles for her when what she needs is to be working on a translation of The Divine Comedy.”
But are we shown any of that Smart Girl goodness? NO. We’re informed of it in a single info-dumping paragraph. Instead, Louisa’s entire character as a Renaissance Woman is merely a convenient excuse to make her the object of pity with an empty dance card and inject some naughty poetry into the proceedings.
Which is a confusing, yet convenient, segue into my second-biggest frustration….
Much like her sister who starred in the previous book, and her other sister in the book before that, and those two other unmarried sisters who don’t have books yet, and her sisters-in-law from the first three books, and probably her mother whose novella I haven’t read yet, Lady Louisa has…wait for it…A Scandalous Secret.
But, of course, none of this scandalous behavior happens within the timeline of the book — it’s a single Unfortunate Episode that happened years before. So, of course, our heroine is given nothing else to do but stand around and mope while her “mother hen” brothers terrorize booksellers across England to track down every copy of her (*gasp*) self-published translation of Catullus.
Luckily, she’s Saved From Ruin by our hero, who has a pseudo-scandal of his own. We’re subjected to painfully obvious foreshadowing of Sir…Joseph (sorry, had to look it up because I forgot it already) and his Mysterious Brood of Bastards. But, as you can probably guess without even reading the book, they’re not HIS bastards — they’re just convenient off-page, unseen plot moppets used as props to demonstrate our hero’s Noble Spirit.
And, of course, the pseudo-plot is resolved by a melodramatic “rescue” by the Brotherhood of Manly Men who show up just in time to throw snowballs at the pathetic excuse for a “villain.”
There is ZERO tension — dramatic, romantic or sexual — in this entire book.
The olfactory overload
I’m not sure if this is A Thing with Burrowes, or just this book, but Lady Louisa and Sir Joseph smell each other. A LOT.
Before we jump into the miasma, I need to state upfront that the smell of cloves is not something that appeals to me.
…the scent of citrus and cloves clung to her
…the flawless, pale and possibly clove-scented skin of her neck
…her serious pretty green eyes, lovely scent and silky hair
…caught a whiff of her citrus-and-clove scent
…a scent that was anything but coal smoke. Cedar and spice, redolent of Christmas
…His daughters would know him by that scent
…catch a whiff of his cedary scent
…Her scent, clean and a little spicy
…the citrus-and-clove scent of Louisa Windham
…the pleasure of her scent, clean and sweet and unique to her
…Sir Joseph’s linen bore the scent of true lavender
…where body heat made the lovely scents – lavender, cedar, spices – pure and strong
…finding as much comfort in its cedary scent
…put distance between him and the clove-and-citrus scent of the daft woman beside him
…seeing if you savor the Christmasy scent you’ve teased my nose with
…her clove scent winding into his brain
…a chance to catch a whiff of her scent
…sneaking a whiff of the lavender soap scent of his skin
…He splashed on his cedar-and-spice scent
…The scent of lavender was here too
…a different quality to his intimate scent. Masculine, maybe
…fortifying himself with the scent of her
…the naked, lavender-scented length of him
…drawing in her clove-and-citrus scent
And that was just our main characters. In total, the word “scent” appears 44 times.
We also get this bit of throwaway dialogue:
“Your countess always smells like a spring garden, Westhaven. There’s a warmth in the scent of her.”
“Honeysuckle,” Westhaven said, looking besotted.
That exchange was between the heroine’s two eldest brothers. I shit you not. Who the hell talks like that???
The title pØrn
Oy. The first sub-trilogy in this meta-series is called The Duke’s Obsession, which is a very apt name, because Burrowes is apparently extremely enamored with the English peerage. Or would it be “enamored OF”?
ANYWAY, we’ll go with the word counts first:
- Duke = 64
- Ducal = 19
- Duchess = 52
- Earl = 30
- Countess = 23
Yeah, yeah, I know this is a Regency about a high-ranking family. But keep in mind that our heroine is untitled and our hero is a mere knight. With very few exceptions, every single one of those titles belongs to a completely superfluous character who’s making a guest appearance. Many of these scenes are boring sexcapades of the still-horny couples from previous books, and none are important to the story.
But wait — there’s more! The noble characters themselves use these titles — lower-case — in their everyday thoughts and in conversations with their notoriously all-up-in-everyone’s-business family. For example…
…”My countess has suggested”
…”my countess and I will be rusticating”
…”would say the same thing regarding your countess.”
…”My countess will not permit me”
…all he wanted was to confer with his countess
…”Happy Christmas, Countess” [from husband to wife under the mistletoe]
…looked up to find his countess eyeing him
…his fragrant, warm and curvaceous countess
…did not stop ogling his countess
…”Your countess has been busy”
…”hands are seldom off his countess’s person”
…”or so my countess tells me”
…”what am I to do with a countess such as you?”
The countesses get in on the fun too…
…”find myself in a private pantry with the earl. His creativity on short notice is truly astounding.”
…”I would like to make love to the Earl of Kesmore.”
As if that wasn’t enough, we need even more reminders of the family’s status, and even more emphasis on the possessive use:
…the slight frown on his duchess’s brow
…taking a place beside his duchess
…if his duchess was to be kept smiling
…Comforting his duchess
…pressing a kiss to his duchess’s brow
…note of despair in his duchess’s voice
…God and the cleverness of his dear duchess
…’What about my dear duchess?”
…”must discuss this situation with my duchess”
…”wish me luck with my duchess”
…”you are a naughty duchess”
…with his beloved duchess
…placed a kiss on his duchess’s temple
…a spark of pride when his duchess
…”pleasure’s of leaving behind one’s duchess”
…”rivaled only by that of my duchess”
…”My own duchess has informed me”
…”When my duchess bestirs herself”
…”My duchess is holding breakfast for me”
…convey the All’s Well to his duchess
…because his duchess was enjoying herself
…as he lead his duchess away
…”and my duchess has taken you into dislike”
But wait — there’s even more! We haven’t gotten around to the Graces! As in His Grace, Her Grace, Your Grace and Their Graces. And not just in social introductions or interactions with servants.
For example, our heroine calls her parents by the honorifics nearly every single time, never “my papa” or “my mother,” even in casual family chatter and internal monologing:
…with brown eyes that put Louisa in mind of Her Grace’s spaniel.
…wondering as she did why His Grace would be accosting a young man
…”why don’t you rescue His Grace from Lord Mannerling?”
…”You remind me of His Grace. When I was a girl….”
…”His Grace used to call me his abacus. I don’t think Her Grace approved of the name.”
And as if ALL OF THAT wasn’t ANNOYING AS ALL HELL, we get also dozens (literally) of useless dialogue tags, along with endlessly repetitive third-person narration like this:
…Her Grace was no fool
…Her Grace had long since divined His Grace’s position
…His Grace sat back
…His Grace loved his five adult daughters
…His Grace understood priorities
…Her Grace was being reasonable.
…His Grace rose from the sofa
…His Grace shuddered to recall
…Her Grace arranged her skirts
…His Grace had leapt to a different conclusion
…His Grace’s gratification
…Her Grace did not take his hand
…His Grace drew up under an oak
…His Grace’s expression changed
…His Grace would see it
…His Grace reached for a tea cake
…His Grace reached for the last chocolate cake
…His Grace picked up the last cluster of grapes
…Her Grace remarked
…His Grace cleared his throat
…His Grace underscored his words
…His Grace would be an even more obvious cat among the pigeons
…Her Grace was conspiring
…His Grace groped for the arm of a reading chair
…His Grace raised a pair of keen blue eyes
…His Grace tossed back his drink
…His Grace dispatched the second drink
…His Grace made the offer automatically
…His Grace settled in
…Her Grace knew Louisa’s mind on this
…His Grace had eaten all but two cake
…Her Grace had delivered several stout whacks to the ducal back
…Her Grace was quiet for a moment
…His Grace contented himself
…His Grace placed a kiss on his duchess’s temple
…His Grace was also grateful
…His Grace was correct
Enough already, you say? Those were was just the sentence starters from the first half of the book. All told, there were more than TWO HUNDRED (200) uses of the “Grace” honorific — in reference to a duke and duchess who were NOT the main characters.
Why? WHY WHY WHY? Is nobody else around here OCD about these things??? *sob*
NOTE: The above meme is NOT intended to label anyone an idiot.
I just found it during a search for “make it stop” and couldn’t resist using it.
Because when will I ever get another chance to put Dwight in a romance novel review???
The monologues with animals
Lady Louisa gives an extensive soul-baring speech to a cat. A cat with no name that appears only in that single scene.
Our hero’s listeners are luckier because they at least get names — Sir Joseph spills his guts to Sonnet the Dancing Horse and…wait for it…Lady Ophelia the Mother of All Swine. The horse saved his life in the war and, well, he’s a pig farmer so of course he’s going to get friendly with his livestock.
The shark jumping
I already used an “oy,” so I’ll go with a vehement UFF DA here.
In chapter five, we’re treated to an unexpected appearance by a different duke.
Wellington’s lips quirked. He was a handsome man of mature years, standing slightly less than six feet, popular with the ladies, and capable of charm when it suited him.
Which Duke of Wellington, you might wonder?
His Grace [::headdesk::] snorted through the feature that had earned him the sobriquet, “Old Hookey.”
Yes, THAT Duke of Wellington. It turns out that our hero Sir Joseph was personal marksman to the illustrious soldier during the Peninsular Campaign.
That’s all nice and good, of course, but WHY is Wellington skulking around in the first place? So he can join in the fun at the halfway point of the book:
Moreland [aka His Grace] came churning across the snowy ground. “I believe all is in readiness, unless that buffoon’s seconds can talk him into last-minute apology.”
Wellington flanked Joseph’s other side. “I’ve conferred with the family, Joseph. Your opponent is a weasel who discredits vermin throughout the realm. Do as honor compels you, and even his fellow weasels will not lament the loss.”
But wait — there more! Hang in there, this is gooooood. Our esteemed Guest Duke doesn’t just stand on the sidelines!
“Grattingly’s second has the pistols.”
…Joseph asked the ticklish question. “Somebody has inspected them”?
Harrison looked grim. “I have.”
“Well,” said Moreland [aka His Grace], “I have not. Arthur, come along.”
A-duking they did go, over to the folding table where Grattingly’s matched pistols sat in an open velvet-lined box.
…Harrison muttered, “I could think of no reason to use another pair that wouldn’t get us both called out all over again.”
“Would that be another pair of pistols or dukes?”
As Joseph offered his rejoinder, Moreland’s foot slipped, sending His Grace careening into His Other Grace, and the both of them pitching forward. The folding table collapsed, and the pistols tumbled out of their cozy box and into the snow.
I. Shit. You. Not.
The Duke of Wellington, Defeater of Napoleon, Commander-In-Chief of the British Army, Ambassador to France, Future Prime Minister and All-Around Hero of Heroes, disrupts an illegal duel not with an bellowed order to all the participants to go home and sober the fuck up, but with a slapstick pratfall into the snow.
Oy. Uff da. I just can’t even….
It could be worse, you say? At least it wasn’t you-know-who, right?
The worst of all Regency evils
Yes, despite all the warnings in Kelly’s Manifesto on Something Something Historical Something-Or-Other Romanticism, the author Went. There.
Prinny waved a hand unadorned with rings, the weather having cause the royal case of rheumatism to take a nasty turn.
*eye-twitch* Not done yet… *whimper*
“But that leaves only an earldom, Your Royal Highness. Surely, for a gentleman pig farmer, regardless of his acumen with a pistol, surely…” Hamburg trailed away, eyes downcast. A few beats of martyred silence went by, then, “I’ll see to it.”
“An earldom and a grouse moor, and perhaps Baconer to the Regent. That has a nice ring to it. We like that last bit, about the baconer. Indeed We do. Fair puts Us in a holiday mood, it does.”
“Of course, Your Royal Highness.”
By the time Hamburg had back from the Royal Presence, the Regent had heaved himself to his feet and started on a progress about Carlton House, noting all the locations from which a kissing bough might still be hung.
And THAT, my friends, is why this book gets a BIG FAT D.