Trashy Read 2011 #5: The Last Hellion, by Loretta Chase
I went into The Last Hellion knowing that it is quite a divisive book among Loretta Chase fans. There are those who love it; some Chase fans would even say it's their favorite. Then there are those who hate it, easily calling it one of her worst books. I'm afraid I lean a bit more towards the latter camp. This book is kind of a mess.
This historical romance centers on a woman named Lydia Grenville who works as a journalist for one of London's tabloid papers. She writes stories about the struggles of the poor and unfortunate, particularly the sad lives of women born into crime and poverty. She comes from a desperate background herself (dead mother, criminal father, etc), so she has made it her life's work to make things better for others. Lydia's very tough and opinionated, loved and hated by Londoners in equal measure. One day while trying to protect a young woman, she runs into Vere Mallory, the Duke of Ainswood. Vere is a rake with low opinions of women and an even lower opinion of himself. He is one of the last remaining members of his family, and he spent many years doing little but going to funerals for his friends and relatives. He feels guilty about being alive.
For the first half of this book, Lydia and Vere have a love-hate relationship that I never quite bought. Their romance is much more believable in the book's faster-paced second half, but this is also when the book goes off the rails. There's just too much going on to fit into one mass-market paperback. There's romances and hidden wealthy backgrounds and revenge and thievery. There's carriage races and dogs and an admittedly cute secondary romance. That's a lot to cram in, and way too much of that cramming happens in the book's last 100 pages. By the time there's a final, big familial reveal at the end, I just rolled my eyes. I had a hard time caring a whole lot about Vere and Lydia, to be honest.
Granted, The Last Hellion does have its moments. As I've mentioned many times, Chase is an easy, charming writer of romance. There are a few cute scenes and funny lines, and the above-mentioned secondary romance is a very pleasant surprise. Best of all, Vere happens to be an old friend of Dain, the hero of Chase's best book, Lord of Scoundrels, which means we get to see the return of Dain and Jessica. Yay! Unfortunately, there's a downfall to having beloved characters from an old book show up again; it only reminds the reader of what they find lacking in the new book. Vere is a lot like Dain in his rakish, low-self-esteemed ways, but he lacks the interesting aspects and brutal magnetism of Dain's personality and story. Seeing Dain and Jessica again only reminded me that Vere and Lydia are no Dain and Jessica. But man, did I want to reread Lord of Scoundrels once I closed the pages of The Last Hellion. I expect this might happen soonish.
Next in Trashy Reads: I'm being a lot more judgmental about romance novels lately, probably because I've read such good literary fiction lately. I was super-excited about Erin McCarthy's new racing romance, The Chase, but I couldn't get past the second chapter. The heroine really rubbed me the wrong way in just a few pages, so I put it down. I have no tolerance for 28-year-olds with very high school bitterness towards old boyfriends. However, I do have an intriguing Laura Kinsale historical on my shelf that is rumored to be really angsty and emotionally satisfying, so I might try that sometime in the next month. I also might try to read some new stuff by my comfy blanket fave, Nora Roberts.