Top critical review
'Immaculate Contraception' strikes yet again
on March 18, 2003
Another Cynster novel, and yet another domineering alpha male paired with an independent-minded female. Now, I *like* independent-minded women, but somehow whenever Laurens writes them, the heroine seems to lose all of her independence and common sense whenever the hero comes into view. Falling in love's one thing, but this is ridiculous!
Okay, so we have, this time, Rupert Cynster, yet another cousin, and this one goes by the nickname Gabriel. Gabriel's big interest is money: investments of the stocks and shares variety. So when he is approached by a woman dressed in black and fully veiled, who introduces herself to him only as The Countess, recently widowed, it's not only his sense of chivalry which is piqued by her request to him to help her family from becoming destitute as the result of a scam.
Under the Countess's disguise is Lady Alathea Morwellan, who is neither a widow nor a countess; she is the daughter of the earl who made the unwise investment. Apparently, she has known Gabriel from childhood, but she chose not to approach him as herself for two reasons. First, she was embarrassed at the thought of revealing the full extent of her family's misfortune to him, and second, she wasn't convinced that he would help if he knew it was her.
This is one aspect of the story which was poorly done. Alathea, Gabriel and his brother Alasdair grew up together, but yet we only discover this a few chapters in; it almost felt as if Laurens had decided to add this element as an afterthought. Gabriel and Alathea's awkwardness around each other felt similarly unconvincing. I can understand buried attraction making them prickly, but this wasn't two people secretly attracted to each other striking sparks whenever they met. This was two people who seemed genuinely to hate each other. And I can't believe that Gabriel, highly experienced lover, doesn't recognise sexual attraction when he encounters it. He's over thirty, for heaven's sake, and he doesn't realise that's why he and Alathea are prickly around each other? Nope, that didn't work for me.
Anyway, Gabriel begins to find out information for the Countess, but insists on claiming a reward for every discovery: a kiss. And so it's not long before things go far beyond kissing. Again, two things strike me as extremely unbelievable here. First, why would Alathea let things go that far? I can't buy the 'carried away by passion' explanation - not even the first time, let alone on subsequent occasions. It didn't make sense for the character as established. And second, yet again, how is it that Laurens' female characters never seem to suffer the consequences of their actions? No precautions are taken, and yet Alathea is supremely blithe in her conviction that nothing will happen.
Another difficulty for me was caused by Laurens' apparent lack of understanding of what 'step-siblings' are; Alathea keeps referring to her step-sisters and brothers, so I assumed - since the Earl was her father - that these were all the children of her stepmother's previous marriage. But no; her 'step-brother' was apparently the Earl's heir. In other words, they were her *half*-siblings. Talk about unnecessary confusion! And why on earth didn't her editor spot this?
Oh, and the discovery of Alathea's identity, when it happened, was just so predictable - Laurens, couldn't you at least have *tried* to make it less obvious to the reader? I felt that I was being bashed over the head with what was about to happen; it was as obvious as those seventies detective series where ominous music plays as the camera pans on a particular scene or item. The discovery would actually have been enjoyable had it come as a surprise, but as it was I was just counting pages until it happened.
There is, as ever, a dramatic plot to the story; it holds the attention for a while but, like most of Laurens' mystery/detective plots, it does tend to take over and get tedious. It's a good means of getting the protagonists to work together, but it did mean that I was flicking quickly through several pages from time to time.
I'm marking time through the rest of the series now, since I already have the books, but have already decided not to bother buying the newest Cynster release. After book after book of repetitive plots, I want some better-written, more varied reading!