One of the things that I've noticed about historical romance novels is that when they are good, they tend to fall into the very good category. But when they are bad, oh how they flop! Such has been my experience with the novels of Eloisa James. Several I've enjoyed immensely, finding the blend of characters and plot to be just about right for an enjoyable evening's read.
And then there are the ones that had me muttering oh come on! and wanting to fling the book away. But I've resolved to finish whatever book I start, unless it is so awful that I simply can't take it anymore. And it was between these two extremes that I have found myself in this latest series by this author.
Kiss Me, Annabel tells the story of the second eldest of the four Essex sisters. Annabel has seen two of her sisters marry, one very successfully, and one with a disaster of a union. But Annabel isn't trusting on fate to win her the husband that she wants; no, she knows exactly what she wants -- a husband who is wealthy, compliant, and above all, not Scottish. Her memories of Scotland and life with her father, who gambled and spent every cent he had on horses, are so scarring and traumatic that Annabel is certain that she could not find any sort of happiness there.
Not that Annabel honestly has anything to worry about when it comes to finding a husband. She's beautiful and blond, and she already has several suitors who are just waiting for her to say 'yes.' But while their offers are certainly tempting, none of them have managed to stir any sort of passion in her. That is, until she meets Ewan, the Earl of Ardmore, a handsome red-head who dresses most unfashionably all in black, and tends to be blunt and manner-of-fact. Worst of all, he's a Scot, and Annabel wants nothing to do with him.
Intertwined with Annabel's story is that of her sister Imogen, a mourning, unhappy widow who is dressing in skin-tight black gowns with daring decolletage. She's also making a fool of herself and bringing scandal upon herself and her sisters, and ruining Annabel's chances for a good match. Things have gotten so difficult that the other sisters come up with a plan to have Ardmore marry Imogen -- or at least become her lover.
But the plan backfires badly, and it's Annabel who soon finds herself engaged to marry Ewan, and trapped in a carriage with him all the way back to Scotland. The one place she doesn't want to go. Once again her life is going to be one of poverty, and uncertainty. But it turns out that her sisters have a plan to rescue Annabel from her unwanted marriage if they can reach her in time...
Unlike the previous novel, Much Ado About You, where the characters of Tess and Lucian are interesting and involved with one another, this one falls apart rather quickly. Indeed, nearly the first hundred pages or so has hardly any mention of Annabel at all -- most of it is taken up with Imogen and her wayward ways. If that isn't bad enough, the romance between Annabel and her Scotsman never rises above a simmer, if that much. The suitor decides to be juvenile about things, and plays kissing games with her for the first week, and then we get the musty old "let's-trap-them-somewhere-isolated-until-they-have-sex" ploy. While James likes using Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew for the basis of this, the coyness of this becomes so sticky and dull that I was falling asleep over the book rather than finding it to be of any interest.
And that's fatal for a novel like this. The other problem is that she has set this somewhat in the Regency period of English history, but is entirely unconvincing in her descriptions of clothing, attitudes and the use of what is known as a 'special license' for marriages. The idioms tend to be modern, Imogen's behavior thoughtless and stupid, and the fact that the story has a hard time settling down as to which character is going to be the heroine just ruined the read for me.
Barely two stars, and that's pushing it. Not recommended.