Heiress Without A Cause* by Sarah Ramsey

* Plus a little bit about Book 2: Scotsmen Prefer Blondes at the very end.

  • Heiress Without A Cause by Sarah RamseyTitle: Heiress Without a Cause
  • Author: Sara Ramsey
  • Series: Muses of Mayfair, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Spencerhill Associates, February 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 314 pages
  • Trope(s): In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: Spinster agrees to chaperone disgraced lord’s sisters – but when he recognizes her actress alter ego, she must pretend to be his mistress.
  • Quick review: A hot mess of a premise and a TSTL heroine, slightly redeemed by a few flashes of compelling writing.
  • Grade: C– (really more of a D+, but it’s not a Lady Alexandra level of bad)

The entire premise of this book is a big ol’ Hot Mess, with all the requisite confusing plot contrivances to force the action and motivations into something vaguely resembling logic.

I came very, very close to DNFing, but some swoon-worthy sentences (and the irrelevant fact that the author claims to be an Iowa girl) gave me hope that the writing might somehow overcome all the early red flags.

The setting….

Regency London. The fantasy-land Mistorical Island version (see below).

The backstory….

Our heroine, Lady Madeleine Vaillant, is half-French, orphaned by the guillotine because her parents stayed behind to protect their chateau. Or something like that. She lives in London with her aunt and cousins, desperately yearning for someone – anyone – to adore her (more on this later).

Our hero, William Avenel, is the newly-titled and very reluctant Duke of Rothwell. He’s edging his way back into the ton nearly ten years after purposely getting himself exiled to Scotland to escape his humorless father. The duke has three sisters – two are much-younger twins in need of a society chaperone, the other a scandalous widow.

The plot….

This is going to get a little hairy. Please be patient and save all your questions until the end.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Believing herself to be trapped in a “boring but comfortable prison,” and being desperately desperate for adoration (see below), our heroine decides her only option is to become An Actress.

Here, in a white muslin ball gown, with her brown hair tucked into a spinster’s cap, no one spared her a first glance, let alone a second.

Last night, wearing breeches and a wild, unkempt wig, everyone cheered at her feet.

The breeches and wig are part of her costume for her role in Hamlet. To be more specific, the LEAD role.

Our hero, who just happens to own the theater, is naturally stunned stupid by Lady Madeline’s amazing acting (performed under a French pseudonym, of course). Naturally, he accosts her in her dressing room, where he immediately recognizes her as the quiet Mayfair spinster he hoped to engage as a chaperone for his young sisters.

This recognition leads to our heroine (in her actress persona) pretending to be the duke’s mistress. For scandal-proofing and safety reasons, of course.

If you’re thinking that all these contrivances to get them into bed defy logic and reason, you are correct. All this happens in the first third of the book.

What made it even more frustrating is that our happy couple’s backstories are revealed too little, too late. Instead, we’re immediately dumped into the characters’ heads, where inexplicable things are happening. My “oh, really???” bullshit-o-meter was starting to veer off the charts to the Land of DNF. But once I understood Madeline and Ferguson’s motivations, I was much more willing to keep reading.

Of course, I still held a grudge throughout the rest of the book. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever. Usually. I occasionally relent if the sexy times are hot.

There was nothing too painful about the predictable “Oh NOES, I’m RUINED, no wait, NEVER MIND” road to the predictable baby-filled epilogue. In fact, the calming of the craziness allowed for some really good writing and characterization to peek through – just enough to make me feel a teensy bit guilty for my petulant snarking.

But wait – there’s more!

Lest you think I’ve gone all “Nice Girl Saying Sunshine-y Things About A Delightful Book By A Lovely Author” on you, it’s time to discuss the Mistoricals.

Yes, I am now using that as a noun. A proper noun, no less. However, if I ever use “mistoricalize” or any other variant as a verb, you have my full and complete permission to report such abuse to the Hypocrite Police and the Plain English Campaign.

ALSO: I’m thinking “The Mistoricals” would be a great name for a Monty Python-esque comedy troupe.

Where were we? Ah, yes – the slums of London.

Seven Dials could be dangerous, particularly at night, but the overflow of crowds from nearby Covent Garden mitigated the risk.

The theater in which our heroine achieves her life-long dream of being an Adored Actress is located in Seven Dials. No, not a made-up, slightly seedy theater district like Covent Garden. You know, the notorious slum that’s even slummier than the rookeries of St. Giles surrounding it.

Sinks of London Laid Open, illustration by George Cruikshank, author unknown (1848)

Sinks of London Laid Open, illustration by George Cruikshank,
author unknown (1848)

THAT Seven Dials.

Our heroine is headlining a proto-feminist version of Hamlet. As in the high-brow Shakespeare tragedy. In a theater located in a festering slum inhabited by uneducated and desperately poor footpads, cutpurses, prostitutes and street urchins. The production is a huge hit.

Our resident Drama Queen travels to the theater and back accompanied only by her aging maid. But it’s perfectly safe, because they take a hackney.

In all fairness, I know that many – if not most – readers won’t be familiar with the history of London slums. And there very well could have been such a theater in the midst of squalor.

But as a history geek, I have a really hard time imagining bored aristocrats going to the rookeries for shits and giggles. I struggled with this setting so much it completely knocked me out of the story every time it was mentioned.

My mental picture of Seven Dials looks much less like this…

The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden by Thomas H. Shepherd, 1827/8

The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden by Thomas H. Shepherd, 1827/8

…and a LOT more like this:

William Hogarth's Gin Lane (1751)

William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751)

But darker. And noisier. With a smell that would knock you into next Tuesday.

Our heroine….

…the damp, moist air of the playhouse felt like her ruin closing in on her. But some secret place, which she would never confess to, was thrilled at her forced return to the stage. In all her years as a debutante, she had never walked into a room and felt – adored.

Two weeks into her acting gig, Lady Madeline is shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – to learn that drunken rakish lords assume she is, or will be, someone’s mistress. This disturbing correlation of “actress = fallen woman” has never occurred to our titled 28-year-old heroine.

In the darkened alleyway, she should have been afraid – but there remained that fascinating feeling that she was in control, not them.

There’s a very fine line between naive and TSTL, and I’m pretty sure Lady Madeline crosses it.

It worries me how dumb you areMore than once.

They discussed her like she was a commodity, and seeing how men spoke about women when there were no ladies present annoyed her.

And then again:

“Was this what it was to be a courtesan – an object for entertainment?”

The duties and expectations of a courtesan are foreign to Lady Madeline – even though she knows what “carte blanche” is, compares a scent to an Eastern harem, and giggles over erotic engravings with her friends.

And…again:

She may have liked their adoration from the safety of the stage, but in the alley, their desires felt dangerous.

Not done yet….

…the next few weeks might be the only time she would ever feel adored – by the ton, by the audience, by the duke who promised to save her.

…Being alone with him in a closed carriage was very different from dancing with him in a crowded ballroom.

…With the events of the last two hours – losing her virginity, and then refusing a marriage proposal from a man she thought she might love – she knew she would not sleep easily.

*~*SIGH*~*

Our hero…

He had last been seen nearly a decade earlier, when everyone knew him as Ferguson – a third son with no prospects and a scandalous reputation.

Our duke  is not a Sneering Snob type of duke. He’s a Very Reluctant type of duke. In fact, he’s so averse that he’s dithering over when – or IF – he will assume his exalted title and ducal responsibilities.

Brace yourselves. The angst is coming.First, though, he had to decide whether to truly be the duke.

On Mistorical Island, it’s perfectly OK for an English peer to shrug off a title and send it back for a refund. Why is he so reluctant? Not only was his father an Evil Tyrant, but his two older brothers (now conveniently dead) had Mysterious Issues. These issues were so mysterious that gossips assumed Ferguson scarpered off to the Highlands because he was going mad from a bad case of the pox.

Another benefit of living in an anarchy like Mistorical Island is getting to Choose Your Own Name. Our hero takes full advantage of this by insisting on being addressed as Ferguson – his late mother’s maiden name. So naturally everyone in Mayfair and beyond foregoes the irksome formality of all those “Your Graces” and “milords” because they don’t want him to get all pissy about it.

ALSO: Within minutes of being introduced in a ballroom, our hero bestows our heroine with a unique and charming nickname. He calls her “Lady Mad.” Get it??? (har har)

Basically, Ferguson is an Angsty Alpha. If pouting counts as angst and de-virginizing a spinster makes one an a he-man. He’s mostly just kind of there, waiting to rescue “Lady Mad” from her endearing cluelessness so he can go all caveman and drag her into his bedroom.

WAIT! Almost forgot the most important fact! His manhood is very well-sprung!

The good stuff!

Her:

…the amusement lurking on his face intrigued her. It was almost like he was playing a role – and laughing at those who could not see through his deception. She knew how that felt.

lolcat…Her dress, her cap, her slippers, even her undergarments were all new. But she felt like something old and broken accidentally left in the remade room, waiting for a chambermaid to notice and sweep her away.

…If her reputation survived the month, the reducing diet she feigned to throw Aunt Augusta off the scent might still kill her.

…She had the strangest desire to twine around his body, like ivy on a lamppost, supported by him and yet capable of pulling him down.

Him:

…At least maudlin and lovesick were preferable to bitter and ashamed.

…”If I lost you, I would become the man he was.”

…”I would have endured another decade with my father without complaint if I had known you waited for me at the end of it.”

See what I mean? There’s good stuff in there, but it’s a tough slog through the dreck to find it.

Now let me tell you what I REALLY think….

Did I mention that this was kind of a Hot Mess? But if you look hard enough, you can get a brief glimpse of some cute Literary Lingerie hidden underneath the Cloak of Crazy.

I also read the second book in the series, titled Scotsmen Prefer Blondes. Excising the WTFery left behind a weak and predictable “trapped into marriage” plot, with characters who continually flip-flopped between lust and hate for inane reasons.

Take a wild guess at the titles of the next two books in the series. Go ahead, pick a couple of completely random, unrelated movie titles and bastardize them in the most cringe-worthy manner possible.

Did you guess correctly?

Book 3: The Marquess Who Loved Me

More eye-rolling than cringe-worthy, you say? That was just a teaser.

Book 4: The Earl Who Played With Fire

Because it’s always a good idea to relate your Wallpaper Regency Mistorical to a Swedish crime thriller featuring a multi-tattooed and -pierced bisexual heroine with anger issues.

Keep up the good work there, Too-Cool-For-School Marketing Team – I’ll be hiding out in Carla Kelly’s backlist.

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