When last we met, I had just read a book (not to be confused with a work of literature) featuring an iron-thewed Highland Laird and his lady love, a Victim of Circumstance. Now, as I go through this phase, I’m all for a man can bench press Stonehenge and glower at me lovingly; however, while the whole Laird thing will do in a pinch, the Highlands are cold and damp, and I’d be constantly chilled to the bone, no matter how closely the hero “pulled me to his warmth”. Plus wool makes me itchy. What I need is a Reformed Rake to Make the Best Husband. He’s the charming, cynical bastard at the heart of most historical romance novels. It makes for better repartee and what’s the point of reading, if the man in question isn’t intelligent, magnetic and devastatingly seductive? Let me answer that for you: There is no point at all. Judith McNaught knows her way around a charming bastard: They require a lot of forgiveness and she makes sure he is worth it. The gentleman in question is so entirely delicious, and such a magnificent combination of everything swoonworthy, that I’d forgive him 17 times too. Almost Heaven is silly, the writing is overwrought yet strangely repetitive, and, oh my God, I LOVED EVERY SINGLE PAGE, even the ones I skipped to get back to the love story.
The Sacrificial Lamb of Almost Heaven, Elizabeth Cameron, is a Countess who will lose her beloved ancestral home should she marry against her vile and greedy uncle’s wishes. Because romance novel heroines are basically PG13 Disney princesses, she also has a worthless brother complicating things, and a household staff that dotes on her every move. Elizabeth is quite young, but I ignore that part. If I can ignore all the other strains on credulity, I can certainly pretend she is 5 years older. She is, of course, beautiful, but Elizabeth is also educated, independent and proud. Pride is considered a virtue in these books. I assume it’s their tenuous connection to the ultimate romance novel Pride and Prejudice. There are worse places to start. It also helps delay the denouement because everyone has to get over themselves for the happy ending to be achieved.
When the novel opens, Elizabeth is in disgrace because on the cusp on announcing her engagement to an appropriate young man, she met gambler Ian Thornton at a house party. He is gorgeous, charming, and, really, I can’t emphasize this enough, just smokin’ hot. (He is also rumoured to be the illegitimate grandson of the wealthy Duke of Stanhope. Guess how that turns out.) In flashback, they meet, fall in love instantly, he proposes, there is a misunderstanding owing to her naivety and his cynical bastardism, and her world implodes. Two years later (page 150 or so), she comes back into his life, they are still irresistibly drawn to each other, they establish a fragile peace, she has to leave, he FINALLY realises it’s ALL his fault, humbles himself, repairs her reputation, marries her, and there’s, like, two chapters of wedded bliss. Then it all goes to hell again because secrets are bad, jumping to conclusions is unfair, and sometimes people are idiots. But don’t worry, you already know how it turns out.