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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Ruthless Charmer

*** The Ruthless Charmer by Julia London. Historical romance.

This is the 2nd book in the Rogues of Regent Street trilogy. I absolutely loved the first (#2) book, and loved the 3rd (#11), but this one...

The "ruthless charmer" of the title is Julian, one of the three remaining Rogues of Regent Street. Along with his friends, he's still recovering from the suicide of Phillip. Julian blames himself because he was also attracted to Claudia, the young woman Phillip was hoping to marry. He fears that his jealousy distanced him from Phillip and kept him from seeing when to intervene sooner. He's also very afraid that when Phillip became more drunk, broke, and desperate, prompting Julian to warn Claudia away from Phillip, that it pushed Phillip over the edge.

Julian is still very much attracted to Claudia, an attraction which started in her teens when she was friends with Julian's sisters. But she's distant to him, so he projects his guilt, and assumes that she's mourning Phillip and blames him for Phillip's death.

Claudia does blame Julian, as a matter of fact, and not just for Phillip's death. It all dates back to a ball when she was 17 (she's now 25), when Julian promised to return for a dance with her and never did. Since then, she's built him up in her mind as the world's worst rogue, and has convinced herself that he not only coerced Phillip into drinking, gambling, and debauchery, but that he warned her away from Phillip because he didn't think she was good enough for his friend.

Misunderstandings like this are my very least favorite kind of romance plot, and in The Ruthless Charmer it's exacerbated because even once Julian and Claudia act on their attraction and are forced to marry, they still persist in their assumptions.

I actually rather liked the misunderstanding after their first lovemaking, when Claudia is afraid that Julian was disgusted by her enthusiasm--that rings very true for the times. But there are so many misunderstandings, and I really wanted to lock this couple in a closet and force them to talk.

Worst was the situation with Julian's younger sister Sophie, a stubborn, spoiled brat. She's infatuated with an abusive fortune hunter who's sweet-talked the naive young girl into believing he loves her and that Julian is being unfair to them both by trying to keep them apart.

So rather than actually explain what the problem is, Julian just lays down the law: Sophie's not to see him, period, whereupon Claudia, disregarding the contradictions with what she's learned about Julian's character, decides to believe Sophie's version and assists the two "lovebirds" who elope.

At that point, I almost felt that Sophie deserved the abuse, I was so completely irritated by her. Almost. I'm not an idiot.

I've probably spoiled too much of the plot already--sorry about that (though you'll see this much and more in the Amazon reviews). I won't tell you how the problems are resolved, at least.

On the positive side, the situations--even the misunderstandings, irritating though I found them--were very true to the times. A male head of the family wouldn't find it necessary to explain why his sister should stay away from a particular man, for example. And Claudia, as an early feminist, was equally understandable in her blind quest for independence. It doesn't make me like reading about them, though.

And I did very much enjoy the descriptions of the life of women of all stations in Regency-era England. As an early feminist, Claudia made a good lens through which to view their lives.

Julia London is--and remains--a must-buy author for me. Whether The Ruthless Charmer is a mis-step or just a matter of having pushed my buttons, I'm not sure, but as the only book of hers that I haven't absolutely loved, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt.

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