Rogue's Honor

Scandalous Virtue

Innocent Passions by Brenda Hiatt
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-050758-6
When is someone going to tell authors that just because a woman wears glasses doesn’t mean she’s bookish? Why is it every heroine who would rather think than be arm candy is automatically given glasses? Just a little pet peeve.

Rowena Riverstone has always been more comfortable in the country than caught up in the social whirl of London. Not that this is a problem to her brother Nelson. The farther Rowena and her radical political ideas are from London, the better. Yes, surprise, surprise, Rowena is a bluestocking. Little does her brother know that Rowena is the mysterious MRR, writer of controversial articles to the Political Register.

One day, Rowena decides to come to London so she can be closer to the political scene. She visits her friend Lady Pearl, who offers to let Rowena stay and decides she’s going to make-over Rowena so she can have a little of society just once in her life. After all, wouldn’t do to have a drab, plain heroine, would it?

Rowena is not Lady Pearl’s only guest. Noel Paxton is an investigator on Bow Street. Although he professes to be on the trail of the Saint of the Seven Dials, a Robin Hood-esque thief beloved by the impoverished people, Noel is actually conducting an undercover investigation into the vile Black Bishop. Noel’s prime suspect is the controversial MRR.

When Rowena and Noel meet, sparks fly. Noel is attracted to the serious Rowena, so different from the flighty socialites constantly thrown at him. Rowena is distressed to find herself attracted to a man who is trying to stop a criminal that is nobly helping the lower classes. Little does Rowena know that Noel actually is the Saint of the Seven Dials.

The attraction between Rowena and Noel is believable. Although Rowena wishes she wasn’t attracted to a man like Noel, she doesn’t automatically dismiss him out of hand. She sees that he respects her views and doesn’t expect her to just be silent and pretty. It’s a very rational response. Noel, for his part doesn’t play either the seducer or rake. He treats Rowena as an equal and let’s her know of his attraction for her.

The only trouble is the issue of the Black Bishop and various other investigations detracts from Rowena and Noel’s budding relationship. There are so many suspects, so many deceptions that it becomes confusing and distracting. Also, the villains are drawn in broad strokes, it’s no surprise when we find out who they are, yet somehow it is to the other characters.

There is also the problem with Rowena’s personality. It’s as if as soon as she puts on a pretty dress her IQ drops ten points. While she holds her own with Noel, with every other man she becomes a simpering socialite. For example, she lets other men beat her at chess lest they think she’s too intelligent and have hurt feelings. Granted, this helps show that she respects Noel more than the other men, but I still felt it was very out of character for a woman who is otherwise quite proud of her convictions.

As for the glasses, I truly appreciate Hiatt showing Rowena having hardship seeing without them. Too often bookish heroines are wearing glasses only to mark them as plain, yet they can take them off whenever they want with no consequence when they need to be “pretty.”

Hiatt also scores points for actually have the Regency Era be more than window dressing and a few obligatory mentions of Almacks and Whites. Innocent Passions is a pleasant romance that, while it doesn’t break any new ground, should be enjoyed by fans of the Regency.

--Anne Bulin

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