|Almost a Lady was almost an interesting book. Almost.
Meg Barratt, no longer in the first blush of youth, is the despair of her mother who fears she will never marry. Meg, unfortunately, is only attracted to “bad” men, because “they’re the only ones who are any fun.” So right away, smart readers know not to expect anything profound from this girl.
When Meg is accidentally kidnapped and taken to sea by Cosimo, a privateer who has clearly mistaken her for someone else, she at first demands to be returned to England. Cosimo cannot grant her request, however, because he is on a secret mission. He’s a privateer and not in the navy because he doesn’t take orders very well, but the navy is pleased to make use of him because he can get away will all kinds of nefarious stuff their precious rule book won’t permit.
Because Meg closely resembles Ana, the fellow spy whom Cosimo was expecting to take on board his ship, he decides that he will take his time in returning Meg to her family. Using a charming roguishness that has stood him in good stead before, he hopes to test Meg’s mettle and, if she’s up to it, persuade her to take Ana’s place on their “mission” – a plot to assassinate Napoleon.
Since Cosimo is just the sort of sexy bad boy Meg likes, in very short order she’s agreeing to spend a couple of weeks having sex with him before she has to go back to boring old London and pretend to be respectable. Of course, she knows nothing of Cosimo’s plans to seduce her into espionage.
I read the first few chapters of this book mentally congratulating the author for keeping my interest and moving the relationship along even though nothing much was happening. Unfortunately, the interesting information stopped coming, at which point we were left with just the nothing much happening while they sail around and ride around and have sex.
Part of the problem is that Meg and Cosimo, who start out seeming like they might be interesting characters, turn into cardboard cutouts without any foibles or depths to make them interesting. Meg seldom seems to worry about the consequences of anything she does. She’s a bit concerned about worrying her parents and friends with her poorly-explained absence, and a bit concerned with the damage her reputation might suffer, but she just sort of shrugs it off and has some more sex with Cosimo.
Very late in the book, she tries to convince us that she has a conscience and convictions. (Cosimo wants her to lure Napoleon to his death? How dare he ask her to help kill a man? Doesn’t he know it’s wrong?) Come on. He isn’t asking her to pull the trigger herself – and we’re talking about Napoleon here. It’s a bit much to expect romance readers, most of whom have read many Regencies containing information about the ravages of the Peninsular War, to sympathize when she cavils over helping take down Napoleon. This really was not a good choice of motivation.
It’s also a bit difficult to take Cosimo seriously as a hero. For the majority of the book he is cold-bloodedly manipulating Meg with sex, hoping to ensnare her into joining his plot. It’s really difficult to believe in a romance when there isn’t one. Eventually, of course, the author has the goodness to tell us that his feelings are becoming engaged, but you’d have to be as dense as Meg to believe it. And since the sex is just sex for most of the book (and not terribly explicit or interesting sex) it’s more than a little rote.
The ending is difficult to believe because it arrives abruptly out of nowhere. Plus, most readers will be pretty sure that Napoleon was not assassinated by people named Meg and Cosimo, so it would have been more interesting if the reason for the failure of their mission had been more, um, interesting.
I spent a great deal of my Christmas holiday wading through this book. I wish I could tell you I enjoyed it.
-- Judi McKee