A Desperate Game

A Gentleman at Heart

A Lady's Mischief

 
Tempting the Heiress
by Barbara Pierce
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98621-1
*
Everything about this book annoyed me: the title, the back-story, the characters, the plot, and the writing style:

The title: I know that blame for the title may not be laid at the author’s feet, but somebody somewhere in the publication process should have questioned calling this book, Tempting the Heiress. Far from being an heiress, the heroine’s autocratic father – the action takes place in 1810, when fathers apparently could be autocratic to the extent of threatening bodily harm to undesirable suitors – is in the process of selling her off to the highest bidder.

The back-story: I had never read anything by Barbara Pierce before, but I quickly concluded that Tempting the Heiress must be the latest in a lengthy series about the Bedegrayne and Claeg families. Ms. Pierce seems determined to introduce us to every character that had ever made an appearance in an earlier book, even servants who do no more than open a door. Such introductions are not uncommon in romance novels, but 18 characters in 19 pages? That’s a little extreme…and quite bewildering.

The characters: For a book where so much space is devoted to the back-story of peripheral characters (peripheral to this book, at least), I was surprised when pinning down the details of the hero’s story proved difficult. Brock Bedegrayne has just returned from two years in India, driven there by some sort of scandal that must have been recounted in full in an earlier book but which remains obscure in this one. What did he do in India? Don’t know. Did he return wealthy? Probably; it’s never spelled out. Why do I care? Well, I’d like to understand what makes Brock tick, besides his attraction to the heroine, Amara Claeg. I never do. Brock remains, from start to finish, a toy hero. You wind him up, he lusts, he kisses, he insults, he regrets, he apologizes. Now wind him up again and repeat.

Amara Claeg is a 22-year-old miss with a Terrible Secret. When she was sixteen and engaged, her loathsome fiancé attacked her. Brock rescued her; he is the only person who knows what happened to Amara. Now her response to Brock is conflicted. She is simultaneously attracted to him – he’s a sexy guy – and repelled because whenever she sees him, she is reminded of the attack. Understandable, but I couldn’t help thinking Amara had a less romantic motivation for keeping Brock around.

Once again, her father is forcing an unpleasant prospective husband on Amara. Although the text never says so explicitly, Amara must have remembered that Brock protected her once and is ‘way nicer than Conte Prola. She doesn’t seem to have any other suitors, so jettisoning Brock would leave her with no alternative except to marry the unappealing Conte. Practical, but not very romantic.

The plot: There isn’t much.

In the first half of the book, Amara and Brock have half a dozen inconclusive meetings, where nothing is straightened out between them. In between, they separately visit with members of the Bedegrayne and Claeg families. These encounters seem to be inserted mainly to update readers on the current status of the protagonists of earlier novels; sometimes they also inch the story forward. Finally, at almost exactly the mid-point of the novel, a villain makes his appearance, and a second plot line starts meandering its way toward the climax. Amara’s and Brock’s romance heats up, too, so the second half of the book moves more quickly than the first…which is like comparing a turtle and a snail and complimenting the turtle on his speed.

The writing style: Distracting.

Sometimes a clear, lucid writing style will overcome a weak plot or (more difficult) unconvincing characters. On the other hand, an awkward writing technique can distract the reader from an intriguing plot and interesting characters. In the case of Tempting the Heiress, Ms. Pierce has added clunky writing to her other weaknesses, so that even when the story pulled me in, an unfortunate sentence jerked me right out again. Examples:

“Dragging her off held a certain appeal, but the direct tactic would mire him in impending obstacles.” Can obstacles impend? If so, can a person get mired in impending obstacles? Doesn’t matter - I should be thinking about the story, not analyzing Ms. Pierce’s vocabulary.

Brock kisses Amara: “Her barbed tongue protected a wellspring of sweetness he had feared experience had made rancid.” I don’t suppose Ms. Pierce wrote that sentence just to make me giggle, do you?

A sentence that demonstrates the problem I had untangling everybody’s back-story: “I assumed at the time that he (Brock) still felt guilty for his participation in unmasking her (Amara’s) role in Devona’s doomed plan to rescue Amara’s brother from prison.” Huh?

Conclusion: The only readers I could think of who might be interested in Tempting the Heiress are those devoted to the story of the Bedegrayne and Claeg families. However, even they may find little to enjoy in this slow-moving, unconvincing story. Everyone else is warned: beware.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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