Sometime in the 1940s, regency period romances moved away from the Austen model of intelligent heroine and logical hero – into studly rake and ‘spirited’ but dumb as a doornob, overemotional wreck of a heroine (both of their only ‘redeeming’ qualities translate into being an alpha and beautiful, respectively). Worse, books like this are borderline misogynistic; the women are all schemers and loose, eager to destroy each other and others in order to get or protect their poor hapless menfolk. And yes, clearly the manwhores fall in love and are redeemed by the ‘spirited’ heroine at the end. Barf.
This hit so many cliches (ok, yes, this was written decades ago) it was increasingly hard to stop bonking my head on the table. People talked like a writer pushing a story forward (say this to show that the heroine is loyal to her brother, say that to show that the brother loves his twin sister, etc. etc.) than anything with true feeling or reality. The dialogue and interactions were unrealistic and very canned. It was like someone read some Georgette Heyer and took every odd phrase and tried to incorporate it into the book with a pretense of being historic. But it all came off as a bad cliche when characters acted so anachronistic and modern (and yes, stupid) as to be wince worthy.
There is a plot here, somewhere, with a murder mystery of a scheming young lady out to get our heroine’s brother entrapped in marriage (how dare she!). No one seems too offput by her death, though – I guess it was common to have relatives violently murdered in the Regency period or something. There’s a chase and hiding place (fooling no one) and yes, our gutsy (and incredibly loathsome) heroine will reform her rake by the end, save her brother, and solve the mystery.
Compounding the writing issues is one of the worst Audible readings I’ve encountered in years. The narrator pauses noticeably after every.single.sentence – creating a paragraph at the end of each period. Try stopping and counting to 3 after each sentence you read in this review and you’ll get the idea. It was really annoying, prevented any kind of dynanism or motion in the plot, and was so staccato as to render the story inert. Add in odd pauses at inappropriate places in the middle of sentences and the narrator began to sound like one of those computertized robo callers that never sound human, pausing and starting up at weird places and with equally weird intonations and emphases. It was as robotic as it comes – sort of like being slowly tortured and making the silly story seem like a punishment rather than an enjoyable way to pass time.
I’ve read historical romances for several decades. Is this the worse? Sadly, definitely not. I know there is a built in audience for the ‘spitfire’ heroine with more hair than brains or depth. But I suspect those people were raised on the pulp historical romances of the era in which this was originally written and not on literature as with Austen. The 1970s was a throw away decade in many ways – not just fashion but also, sadly, fiction for women.