9/10 on the chick-lit meter
Lord almighty, what a nightmare of a book. Prose, plotting, characters, settings, pacing-- everything is just garbage. Welcome to Lynsay Sands' tribute to the common handsome, chiseled libertine pimp inciting the sexual arousal of our typically very ordinary-looking, tall, skinny virgin amazon. Lord, I hate pretty-boy heroes. And THE CHASE's Blake represents just such a hero: pretty and "intrigued" by the very first woman who refuses him. You would think that at least one woman would have denied him in the past, but no. Our heroine Seonaid alone piques his curiosity and earns his pursuit simply by being the first to refuse him. The book drones on and on about how the heroine is more manly than any of the other women Blake has had, and how Blake lusts after her manly hardness and musky male scents. God. Kill me now.
I admit what follows is probably more rant than review. But here it is nonetheless. I'm almost wistful when I think about my first Lynsay Sands novel, THE RELUCTANT REFORMER. How did her writing plummet with time so badly?
More than 250 pages into the novel, we have our first coupling after a wedding. I just have this nasty image in my mind of a god-like Adonis coupling with a lean, flat and tall man-looking woman. This is chick-lit at its worse. You have an extremely long-winded account of a virgin's awakening passion as her husband pleasures her, and then insecurities later on over her tall, gangly looks while Blake serenades her about how she's perfect just the way she is: manly, insulting, scathing, kicking and punching.
Scottish woman Seonaid and Englishman Blake have been betrothed since they were little children. When the 24 year-old heroine Seonaid antagonizes Blake that he didn't fetch her 10 years ago so he should be happy she doesn't want to go now, again I had to laugh. Well then, if he came earlier, he wouldn't have gained all the sexual experience to ably satisfy your needs now would he? That is the entire point, isn't it, to have him nice and sexually experienced so he's ready to pleasure you satisfactorily? Later, after they consummate the marriage, Seonaid is grateful for all the experience he's had with so many other women! And how flattering to have a pretty boy so many women want, lusting after your tall, skinny, gangly body, right? True to chick-lit, there's nothing to notice in our heroine's tall, skinny body (except for eyes, hair and a charming smile), while of course Seonaid gawks at the perfectly chiseled frame Blake showcases for her at every turn. Our Adonis hero doesn't care about pretty women anymore as he settles down with tall, skinny and rather ordinary-looking Seonaid.
If you enjoy arrogant, chiseled pimps outsmarted and unmanned by the heroine at every turn, this is the book for you. If you enjoy muscular, brainless libertines offering little more to the story than to bathe and flex his muscles in front of the truculent virgin heroine and bear her spitting expletives, this book is for you. If you enjoy a sexually-accomplished pimp constantly thinking about the heroine and how different she is from the other women he's had (I hope the hero doesn't hurt himself thinking), while the manly heroine claws and scratches at him, this book is for you. If you enjoy the heroine taken aback by the hero's chiseled nudity and overwhelming handsomeness (no brains required), this book is for you. Where have I heard of all this before, let's just repackage and refurbish these trite romance formulas for any time period: medieval, regency, Victarian, and contemporary.
I enjoy romantic tension between the hero and heroine, I really do. Unfortunately, what passes for "romantic tension" in a lot of romance novels involves having the ordinary-looking, feisty virgin heroine curse, kick, claw and punch the arrogant, sexually-experienced, handsome hero. If the tension involved more of see-saw back-and-forth I'd enjoy it more. As it is, THE CHASE consists of a one-way street where the heroine consistently outsmarts, unmans and abuses the hero, while the hero responds in true chick-lit fashion by bathing nude in front of the heroine and fondling her nipples to stir the beginnings of her virgin passions (because this heroine lacks even the most remote signs of a breast).
For over 200-250 pages in this 371-page paperback, our pretty-boy hero broods over the heroine's apparent lack of interest in him when he's normally used to having all women fawn all over him. For most of the book, Sands uses the pretty boy's thoughts and introspection to remind us (over and over, again and again) how the heroine is the first woman who ever refuses him, and how many women in the past throw themselves at him. For most of the book, he's inexplicably aroused by her tall, skinny, and gangly appearance.
In fact, when it's his turn to chance on the naked Seonaid, he's fascinated by her "lithe body" and her "hardness," noting how there's nothing soft about her and how to touch her would be like touching one of his soldiers! Uhm, okay? And he's turned on by touching the lean, hardness of one of his soldiers? Close to 180 pages into the novel, Blake and Seonaid share their first kiss, and I was cringing as it noted the hero's soft lips against Seonaid's hardness. For most of the book, our gangly, homely, scathing heroine represents a challenge for our hero.
None of this is funny. None of it particularly attractive. I didn't find anything cute or funny about the heroine deliberately poisoning her hero Blake and a bunch of other men. Later, Sands try to redeem Seonaid by having her feel guilty about the poisoning. C'mon, she was joking over having them die and how it would relieve their misery. Guilty my ass. I didn't find anything cute about the virgin heroine gawking at the hero's Adonis appearance; but of course, that's really all the hero Blake is good for: pimping.
Like so many other romance novels, the sexually-experienced pretty-boy is good for little else other than... well, looking pretty and pimping around. He's consistently outsmarted and unmanned by everyone. He doesn't figure out why "Sister Helen" travels with Seonaid and her cousin, he waits for Seonaid's father to figure it out. He dithers over enjoying the heroine's "wit" at his expense, unable to explain why he enjoys the verbal dressing-down. I had to laugh when he thinks he really enjoys her "wit." I don't see much "wit" needed to maintain a steady barrage of insults, kicks and punches. Does it really take "wit" to hurl insults 24/7? And everyone gives Blake a dressing-down: Seonaid, Seonaid's father, Seonaid's cousin Aeldra, Seonaid's sister-in-law's mother, everyone! Blake really can't do anything on his own and he needs to 20+ men (including a 6-foot-10 brute) to guard 3 women. And he still can't hold or protect the women. Earlier, he was headed the wrong way from the convent and had to have others tell him that the women were headed in another direction.
The book calls him a "warrior" at one point, and again, I couldn't help but laugh at that, there's no evidence of his "warrior skills." Blake is grievously injured trying to fend of some enemies at the end, while Seonaid jumps to protect him. Pretty boy, chiseled, broad-shouldered and huge manhood? Definitely. Warrior skills? Brains? Please, don't make me laugh.
It seems most of Lynsay Sands' more recent writing abandons settings and woven plots, instead opting for a more conversationalist diction to drive the pacing of the novel. The prose, again, is much worse than her older novel, THE RELUCTANT REFORMER. Except THE CHASE focuses entirely on appearances, libertines, and virgins, a combination I just couldn't abide.