Friday, November 16, 2007

Deceived, by Nicola Cornick [0]

/***** (0/5)

"I love you," [Marcus] said..."Do you love me, Bella?" [he asked].

"Yes," Isabella whispered. "I told you." { Much earlier and it was a simple 'I love you too' in response to Marcus' prior heartfelt words of love }

"Tell me again. I need to hear it many, many times."

"Only if you tell me, too."

"I love you," he said... "I am no gentleman, but I do love you."

The above epitomizes Nicola Cornick's lopsided 378-page paperback DECEIVED. The heroine Isabella immaturely wants to one-up Marcus at every turn and requires to hear him voice the words of love first and a lot more than the other way around. Calculatingly and deliberately, she makes sure to win everything against Marcus and gives nothing in return to all the love, affection, caring, comfort and tenderness her hero Marcus showers her. He certainly earns her love, but she does and says nothing to earn his and like most romance novels, DECEIVED doesn't feel it's necessary for the heroine to do anything to earn a hero's love other than disparage, humiliate and insult him. Another one-way street? You bet. A few notable exceptions aside (Madeline Hunter, Elizabeth Hoyt, Mary Balogh, Laura Kinsale, Julie Garwood, and KEW of course), historical romance novelists promote the same kind of heroine every novel: haughty, barb-tongued, give/concede nothing first, and demand/take everything. The prose was average, and the plot to locate the villain Warwick was... poor. Marcus knows Warwick involved Isabella's brother Freddie in Warwick's schemes. Yet Marcus fails to take steps to tail Freddie who could lead Marcus to Warwick. Instead, he's ineffectually camping out at Fleet Prison for leads on Warwick. At the end, we have a long conversation between Warwick and Isabella to settle things. Yeah, this entire plot with Warwick was just plain bad. Again we have lead characters in a romance novel never saying how they really feel until the very end, all to prolong the novel and inundate readers with repetitious introspection. The premise of the novel (heroine jilts hero) initially peaked my interest, much to my misfortune. I thought Sylvia Day's hero in ASK FOR IT (also a Marcus) was *much* better and exhibited a more realistic response after he's jilted.

At the onset, DECEIVED belabors on the meandering thoughts and background exposition of its hero and heroine pair. It seems like for every sentence spoken there exists paragraphs of rumination and exposition. I know women want to know what people are thinking, but the musings and thoughts here struck a glibly cloying cord. Part 1-Revenge pits the hero Marcus and the heroine Isabella against each other as each try to gain a leg up on the other. I found this juvenile game adolescently contrived. Marcus here seemed less a guy in love and more like a feminine concoction for the heroine's delight. Of course we know who will win this combative game: it's always the heroine. As "masculine" as the book tries to make Marcus, he's emotionally dithering, stupid and ultimately submissive while Isabella is obstinately resolute, witty and rebellious. Marcus is always the bad guy, always at fault, always wrong while Isabella always the victim mandating apologies and respect and always right. I found the plotting very immature, very one-sided while the characterizations juvenile. Because of the lopsided nature of this "romance", the love scenes never made an impact and seemed little more than a cartoon pimp servicing a virgin-like heroine. Despite being experienced, the book fears allowing the heroine initiate anything sensually or go down on him like he goes down her in the love scenes.

The best pairing in the novel? Not the main one, but rather, Isabella's sister Pen and Marcus's friend Alistair. I was hoping for more of Pen and Alistair actually.

During Part 2-Seduction, we have Marcus do a 180 and play the courtly suitor because he feels bad for treating Isabella poorly. She demands his respect, his apologies (p.222, "...he had not asked for [her] forgiveness..."), his forgiveness, his trust, patience, comfort, tenderness and love (and demands it all from Marcus first) and offers nothing in return. She's always the victim, always right and always immaturely needs to one-up Marcus in their combative game. Despite ruthlessly purchasing Marcus to pass off her debts, blackmailing him (p. 26), debasing him in public at an ambassador's party (she enjoys that), jilting him 12 years ago at the altar and refusing to see him or return any of his letters by way of explanation, the novel contrives to make Isabella morally and justifiably on superior ground compared to Marcus. Isabella callously goads Marcus about the jilt by saying she thought he was made of sterner stuff than become broken-hearted about her (p. 114). When Marcus says some cruel things in response, of course it's Marcus who needs a dressing down and it's Marcus who apologizes often and to the very end (p. 372). Despite Marcus apologizing first and often, going down on her in the love scenes, servicing her, paying off her debts, complimenting her after a Salterton party (p. 276), protecting her, respecting her, comforting her about about her lost child and last lover , etc., etc., I see very little, if any, outright reciprocation from Isabella other than in her meandering thoughts. Although no one wants a biddable, subservient wife, Isabella says little and shows less in terms of affection and caring for Marcus. She dismisses him after they share a heated public discussion at a ball early on, she throws him out after he shows up at her London home late at night, she announces their marriage in the Times in a way that purposefully disparages him (twice), and she intentionally demeans him at an ambassador's party. Not only debasing him in public, but taking pleasure in it. In the beginning, she wishes never to see Marcus out of prison and makes no attempt to free him despite supposedly "loving" him. Please. And Marcus accepts everything and the book makes him constantly think he needs to grovel and demean himself before her.

The whole time, I felt Isabella flaunts her superiority, and says and does nothing to earn his love. No apology for breaking his heart years before (and I understand her dire circumstances compelling her to marry someone else, but she still coldly brushes off his feelings after the jilt). No apology for humiliating and debasing him time and time again. No apology for purchasing him or blackmailing him. No comforting him, no taking a chance and telling him she loves him first, and no sorry's for retreating behind her cold shell of indifference again and again. Isabella has too much pride to say the words of love first or offer any concessions or apologies and yet expects Marcus to give and initiate everything whether it's acts of love or words of love.

When Isabella divulges she had taken a lover during her discontented marriage, I couldn't understand Marcus' jealous and possessive reactions, even considering the time period. He already assumed from the start she'd had many lovers before, and when she reveals she only had one, he should be happy, not wishy-washy and dithering.

Marcus never seemed like a real male character, just something to crumble and mold according to a woman's delights while the woman concedes and reciprocates nothing outright. Marcus serves as a vessel to assert the Isabella's superiority in every way and to bestow his tender obeisances in the love scenes. I found Marcus' wishy-washy, indecisive introspective musings very trying to read. I'm probably more critical of romance novelist heroes than most, but nevertheless much of Marcus' behavior, speech and thoughts elicit annoyance because it seems so forced, so nonsensical and/or so dumb. For instance, although Marcus desires revenge against Isabella for jilting him at the altar 12 years ago, the book tempers Marcus' suitably spiteful designs with wishy-washy lust, possession, rage (over anyone saying anything bad about her), sympathy, affection and jealousy (jealousy at the prospect of Isabella turning to another man for marriage at Fleet Prison). The dressing down he receives from Isabella at an ambassador's soiree because the important people knew her better than knew him was more juvenile nonsense. She relishes in dressing him down and making him look bad there. Talk about childish. Earlier, he gives her his family jewels which she rejects and then she proceeds to debase him publicly at the soiree. What does he do in response? Well he kisses her in public. Of course, something she craves anyway at all times. A man's pride doesn't work that way, which is why it's palpable that Marcus represents a feminine concoction, nothing more.

Then we have this game Marcus and Isabella play to gain the upper hand on each other. After Isabella agrees to retract a rather unfavorable admission of their marriage in the Times, Marcus naively accepts her honorable intentions at retraction. Then, he finds out later that she simply retracted her unfavorable account of Marcus in their marriage by depicting worse circumstances which denigrate Marcus' name. Even though he knew that she fight him every step of the way, he stupidly did not request to read the retraction before she sent the retraction to the Times. Some of the things he says and thinks to his best friend Alistair after reading Isabella's supposed retraction in the Times confirms a nonsensical and weak characterization concocted for the heroine's benefit. For example: "Devil take it, I'm starting to think that she married me just to plague me." Both of their adolescent plotting is supposed to be funny and his consequent frustration with her rejection of his terms intends to ascribe a humorous appeal. I found myself reacting with aggravation and disgust at this adolescently dumb cartoon pimp of a hero. After his friend scolds him that he started the revenge, the book forces Marcus to think he provoked her by his own high-handed behavior and he had only himself to blame. What high-handed behavior? It's not like she signed on to any of his terms. When he shows up at her home one night because he wants her, she later throws him out. Again, the book makes him think that he deserved it. When Isabella purposefully garbs herself in a provocative cherry-red silk for a ton event to annoy Marcus, he obviously lusts for her and thinks, "Damn it, she would drive him insane at this rate." The book yet again makes Marcus think he's the bad guy here forcing his thoughts at self-reproach, that he had done very little to earn Isabella's respect (p. 171). On the one hand, Isabella craves Marcus' rugged masculinity, and yet he thinks, says and does some of the most ridiculously emasculate things.

The premise? Isabella seeks a Fleet Prison man for a husband whose debts make her own twenty thousand debt look like nothing. She wants him to take on her debts, marry him, then annul the marriage after she comes into her inheritance. She would pay a prisoner to take on her debt. I thought this premise was good, and I liked Isabella's ruthlessness. Hence, I was disappointed that the book tried to temper Isabella's plans by highlighting her generosity and compassion. She wants to give some coin to the prison's low-class occupants in the stews. We're reminded again and again that she feels dirty and bad for doing all this. We get it, she's not a bad person, no reason to drum it out mercilessly.

The worst of it? When Isabella learns that Marcus wishes to safeguard his true identity and his location at Fleet Prison, she uses that information to blackmail him into marriage and later wishes the man she supposedly loves stays in prison. Marcus' nonchalant reaction to her blackmailing sickened me. Any guy would be angry, particularly enraged at Isabella's callous blackmailing. She jilts him at the altar 12 years ago, blackmails him into a marriage of convenience to pass off her debts to him 12 years later, and then doesn't feel any compunction to free the man from prison, a man she supposedly loves. Forget about freeing him from prison, she expresses displeasure at the very thought of seeing him out of prison. Marcus knows all this and yet he pines for her regardless. We see him in emotional turmoil and really more excited than anything else at the prospect of seeing her out of prison. He rages over his friend demeaning Isabella (and yet Isabella has no qualms demeaning Marcus in public with the newspaper and at an ambassador's party). He dislikes the idea of people talking about her soiled reputation at a ball. He wants to protect her. How does this even remotely compute? Assuming we dismiss the jilt years ago and discount way she wants to marry and drop someone in Fleet Prison, I thought Marcus should be most upset at how she tries to blackmail him for her ends. What if divulging his true identity and location at Fleet Prison would hurt others? It won't but she doesn't know that!

I thought Marcus' clandestine stay at Fleet Prison served nothing. He learned nothing new about the villain Warwick and he accomplished nothing. Seemed like a very poor ruse to have Isabella chance on him in prison so it will feel like a different kind of historical romance even though all the introspective musings are exactly the same.

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