I had high hopes for A ROSE IN WINTER following the compelling American Civil War romance ASHES IN THE WIND (****). Unfortunately, the hero and heroine here, Erienne Fleming and Christopher Seton respectively, shattered my high hopes. Like ASHES IN THE WIND, Woodiwiss's prose and settings are strong but the characters, plotting and pacing here in A ROSE IN WINTER fell by the wayside in a predictable and disengaging manner. The novel takes place during 1792 England, a Georgian time period with all the social stratas and rogues/rakes from regency romances. I found this historical backdrop fairly routine and uninteresting. Lamentably, A ROSE IN WINTER took over a month to finish as my interest level waned the more I read. Inspired by the fairytale Beauty and the Beast, I disliked the predictable (and convenient) twist which made the Beast more than tolerable. I was frustrated by Erienne's air-headed naivete and bored by Christopher's rogue "charms" which offers nothing different from the myriad of other rakes in romance books.
I found Erienne childish, Christopher dull and the plotting dry and predictable. I thought the gist of the romance lacked merit and appeal; that is, the handsome Christopher struggling to convince Erienne to love him instead of her husband, the ugly and malformed Lord Saxton. Erienne's marriage vows appear a secondary concern to her pining attraction and response to the handsome Christopher. For example, after the Talbot ball, Christopher accosts her in the carriage ride back to Saxton Hall and Erienne responds very favorably to his kisses. Her review of the ordeal has more to do with her feelings for Christopher than potentially breaking marriage vows. Erienne is also very stupid. The identity of Lord Saxton is blatantly obvious from the moment we hear of him and yet Erienne doesn't learn of Saxton's true identity until Saxton himself reveals it. There exists a lot of evidence for her too. I found our rakish rogue, Christopher Seton, entirely ordinary for the romance genre, he doesn't possess a single distinctive quality. Many times he seemed like Superman: he's wealthy, titled, worldly, well-traveled, sexually experienced, tall, dark and handsome. Furthermore, he can deftly play cards, he's proficient at guns and deadly with swords. There's nothing to ground Christopher Seton, he seemed like a feminine concoction in beauty, power and brains (in that order through Erienne's eyes). The plotting was so insipid, I lost interest too many times. I'm trying to decipher the point of some of the vacuous plotting such as Christopher's protracted fight with Timmy Sears in a dockside bar and then traveling to London for parties, traveling back, going to a Talbot ball, etc. The romantic "tension" was anything but. I just didn't care for the "tension" which has Erienne struggling to maintain her marriage vows and easily falling prey to a handsome rake's advances side. Erienne never really accepts the malformed Lord Saxton, she's like a bimbo who pines for outward beauty above all else. The plot dealing with the Saxton family was too melodramatic while the ending stretched mercilessly. I thought KEW could have spiced up the second half by having Erienne discover the truth behind Saxton's identity herself and stage a circumstance which turns the tables on him. But alas, she's just a dumb bimbo throughout.
The Story, possible SPOILERS.
Affluent Yankee Christopher Seton owns many trading ships and he's the common flavor of tall, dark and very handsome. In a duel against Seton defending his insidious father's honor at a game of cards, Farrell Fleming loses feeling in his whole arm and consequently wallows in self-misery. Farrell's sister is none other than the beautiful Erienne Fleming, a girl who detests Seton for crippling her brother and forcing her father Avery Fleming to marry her to the highest bidder. After rejecting many potential husbands, all of them extreme cases of old, infirm and lewd, her father auctions her off. Seton offers but both Erienne and her father Avery reject Seton's proposal because they supposedly hate him. Erienne goes insofar to proclaim to the notorious rake Seton, "Were a twisted, scar-faced, hunchbacked cripple the only other man on earth, I would surely choose him over you!" I'm not so sure Avery's rejection is plausible, money always speaks louder than grudges for people like Avery Fleming. The mysterious and decrepit Lord Saxton purchases Erienne for his wife instead while also alleviating Avery Fleming of his vast debts. Despite respecting and honoring Erienne, Erienne cannot bear the awful and fearful sight of Lord Saxton. Even towards the end, Erienne cannot accept Lord Saxton because of his less-than-desirable appearance.
The story continues as the Saxton history comes to the forefront. Again, most of it is predictable and melodramatic nonsense. Seton flies around on black stallion with a black cape killing bandits and thieves as his legend grows. Even so, we have all these goons still pop up out of no where at the finale to wreak havoc. Nothing here at all.