My Lady's Pleasure

My Lady's Trust

The Proper Wife

A Scandalous Proposal

The Wedding Gamble

The Untamed Heiress
by Julia Justiss
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77113-4
After reading the first couple of chapters of The Untamed Heiress, I returned it to the top of my to-be-read pile where it remained for several weeks. Every time I picked it up again, I put it down for something else. Even a dry and academic biography of an early Victorian bluestocking was more intriguing. My instincts were confirmed when I eventually forced myself to finish it: The Untamed Heiress is so tedious and uninspiring I would have been better off tossing it straight into my to-give-away pile.

Helena Lambeth had a horrible childhood. After her mother ran away with her lover, her father locked her up, denied her the most basic of human comforts and physically abused her. Both her parents are now dead. An heiress to their considerable fortunes, she has come to London to live with her mother’s cousin and her stepson, Lord Adam Darnell.

Adam has returned from the wars on the continent to find his family estate on the verge of bankruptcy. He must marry an heiress but doesn’t seriously consider Helena. For one, she is practically his ward. For another, she is dead set against marriage because of her miserable childhood and sadistic father. Adam opts instead for a childhood friend, Priscilla Standish. As he watches Helena shock London with her unconventional behavior, we get to watch him regret his decision.

Among the shockingly unconventional things Helena does: hires servants from a work house; dresses up as a boy to roam the streets of London at night; runs out of a major social event because she feels claustrophobic; vows to find out all about male desire. Let’s talk about the last one: to satisfy her curiosity, she asks one of her suitors to help her understand how it works and how she can increase it. Her ingenuousness doesn’t stop there: she interviews a “pleasure woman” for similar information. All this from a woman whose father has brutalized her so much she has determined to never marry!

Helena’s behavior may or may not have been unconventional in the eyes of Regency society (although the biography I mention above hints at a margin of tolerance that is much wider than one might imagine). What it isn’t is unconventional in the context of a Regency-set romance. Anyone who has read more than a dozen such stories will know that Helena’s misdeeds are the staple of the genre. Given the plethora of kind-hearted but “outlandish” heroines who precede her, nothing Helena does startles, moves, or entertains.

Adam is even more run-of-the-mill. He has a predictable background as a war hero and a predictable debt-ridden estate. His predictable sense of honor won’t let him call off his engagement even though his predictable manly lust has a predictably hard time watching his friends court her. Adam is such a predictable hero that he is a bore.

There is no drama, conflict or sexual tension in Adam and Helena’s relationship. Only the occasional conversations intimate at anything more than the most banal of friendships, but even these rare sparks are quickly snuffed. For instance, one evening, a slightly inebriated Adam topples his way into the library where he finds a gorgeous woman. He believes she’s a courtesan sent to help him celebrate his final bachelor days and has no qualms pressing his luck. Helena (for, predictably, it is she) immediately says no and puts an end to what could have become a deliciously spicy comedy of errors.

Adam and Helena live in a monochrome world of good and bad people. No matter how “outrageous” and “unconventional” she is, her allies defend her. They share her ethics and sympathize with her tragic past. As a reward, all their troubles are instantly resolved. Helena’s detractors, on the other hand, are not only mean and stuffy, but also incompetent and stupid. They always get left holding the wrong end of the stick.

In short, nothing in this book surprises, titillates, or disturbs. No wonder it took me more than a month to finish it! My recommendation: don’t even begin.

--Mary Benn

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