Wow. I can’t recall a time that this has happened to me with Madeline Hunter. She’s not always a sure thing for me, as I can recall disliking or being disappointed in some of her books, but that’s not really unexpected when I look at how much of her blacklist I have read. But I have never been so completely bored when reading when of her books.
Emma’s father, the owner of an auction house, recently died. Emma’s brother, Robert, is presumed dead after a shipwreck, but because her father refused to give up hope, he wasn’t declared dead. Emma shares the same faith in her brother’s eventual return and is determined to safeguard his inheritance (the auction house) until he makes his way home. Of course, the Earl of Southwaite, the hero, is the proverbial fly in the ointment. He owns 50% of the business and wants it sold. He’s heard some worrying rumors about the auction house being associated with smuggling and, given that he has been staunchly opposed to smuggling, it would never do politically for him to be discovered as somehow profiting from it. He’d rather just have the business sold and wash his hands of it. Of course, this difference in opinion over the future of the business causes Emma and Southwaite to butt heads.
Given the disagreement over the future of the auction house, I expected more excitement between Emma and Southwaite. Hell, I expected more excitement in general. How can someone feel so drab and monotone when they’re scheming to get their way? I enjoyed the fact that Southwaite became so completely turned around whenever he spoke to Emma. He would charge into the situation with it all planned out, but by the time he left he had won nothing and had usually ended up benefiting Emma’s cause somehow. Yet even that was a kind of drab enjoyment. I really don’t understand what was going on with this book. It was well written, but it was a chore to read. There was no excitement or emotion to catch the reader and pull them in.
I think a big strike in the ambivalence column came from the fact that I didn’t care for the hero or heroine. I didn’t care enough to out and out dislike them, but there was nothing about them that pulled me in and made me root for them. The heroine was an odd mix of naiveté and competence that never successfully gelled for me. One minute she would be subtly confounding Southwaite and getting her way and the next she would seem painfully oblivious to the realities of the world. Whenever any sexual attraction came into play she became a dim, easily manipulated creature who made me grit my teeth. She got better once they had sex, but I was never very impressed by her. Also, the way she ignored the realities of what only owning 50% of the business meant irritated me. Southwaite was really no better. He tended to bulldoze over Emma whenever he got the chance. I found his presumptuousness completely galling and was frustrated that Emma went along with it so often.
I liked that we stayed out of the ballrooms and focused mostly on trade world but I found the smuggling plot boring. So much of it hinged on the fact that Emma didn’t tell anyone. If she had spoken to her friend Cassandra or even spoken to Southwaite in the beginning I would have had more respect for her intelligence. Then again, she never really felt like she had a good handle on her plan for the auction house either, so can I really say that I was surprised by how she handled it? But then to have it all resolve in the anticlimactic way it did? Talk about going out with a whimper instead of a bang.
The whole thing just didn’t work for me. My enjoyment in the story picked up a bit after they started having sex, but that wasn’t enough to change my overall feeling of apathy. I hope this book was just a fluke and that the next one is better.
”He feels obligated to make conversation if we have a meal together, and recently I have heard a lot of Miss Fairbourne this and Miss Fairbourne that. I assumed he had some fascination and, being a man, he would do what men are wont to do when they are fascinated.”
“I am flattered that he spoke well of me to you.”
“Oh, no. He didn’t. Not at all. It was never the wonderful Miss Fairbourne. More the annoying Miss Fairbourne and the exasperating Miss Fairbourne.