There are only two romance genre hero types and a few storylines. That’s it. The hero is either a Rake or a Protector. If, for some heretofore unimaginable reason, I was asked to, I could slide down The Shameful Tally and instantly assign Rake/Protector status to all of the heroes listed. I prefer a “reformed rake who will make the best husband” myself, with an occasional big lug thrown in for variety. If the hero is sardonic and calls the heroine “Sweetheart”, I am SO IN. The Rakes are generally charming, dry, seemingly indolent, and very experienced. The Protector is a warrior: probably taciturn, very kind, gentle, and uncommonly stalwart. So you take one of these two men, make him either wry or laconic, and match him to one, or more, of these storylines: The Reformation of the Rake; The Awakening of the Wallflower; The Revenge Plot; The Marriage of Convenience (including The Road Trip and Intrigue or Mystery) or The Tortured Hero or Heroine.
The Tortured Hero moves through the other stories and, depending on your taste, can be as thoroughly or as gently tortured as is your preference. MANY of the characters have sleep issues in these books and PTSD comes up a fair amount, too. Traumatized soldiers and child abuse survivors are common. Unless you are reading one of the really good authors, the psychological issues are not particularly realistic and seemingly easy to overcome.
But let’s move on to the more fun kaleidoscope of spoilers and annoyance with the author part of the review. These books each have an exhaustively tortured hero. The spoilers will help get my point across and, more importantly, the endings are foregone conclusions, so how much can I ruin anyway? Here is what you need to know about Jennifer Ashley:
When she is good she is very, very good, but when she is bad, she is horrid.
The entire range exists in every book. It’s kind of mesmerizing.
The Mackenzie brothers’ father was a fu*king monster who murdered their mother and was psychotically abusive towards his sons. All four men are very damaged. Damaged in a way that in real life creates drug addicts, madmen, or living in the metaphorical fetal position for years at a time. As is often the case, the last book features the most forbidding of the men; the one you can’t imagine rooting for, or whose arrogance and aloofness is nigh on insurmountable. The Mackenzies are intense, insanely rich, scandalously behaved, and frequently kilted. A detail in the books’ favour is that they are set in my preferred clothing period (bustles!) which adds a frisson of joy to my reading experience.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie Protector
Ian has what I think is supposed to be Aspergers Syndrome, or a similar condition. His fascination with the widow Beth Ackerley is intense and highly-focused, but sincere, from the moment he meets her, and somehow manages to avoid obsession. Ian considers himself too damaged to love and, what with it being a romance novel and all, is proved wrong. Love heals all and redeems all. A nice thought. But while Jennifer Ashley can be spectacular at the love part, she is equally atrocious at the back story. You see, Ian not only has some kind of disorder (with savant elements, obvs), he was also abused by his fu*king monster father, and was institutionalized in 19th century England (shudder), and was experimented on/tortured, and may have killed a prostitute in a rage (who hasn’t?), and is being stalked by an obsessed investigator, and is exploited by his eldest brother, Hart, who treats Beth abominably. Overwrought enough for you? Frankly, I had enough trouble getting past the fact that he rarely makes eye contact with the heroine, and often loses the thread when she speaks to him, never mind the other 19 ridiculous elements.
Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage Rake
Do you enjoy chaos junkies? This is the book for you!
Charming Roland “Mac” Mackenzie, is an artist. His fu*king monster father tried to break all his pencils and all his fingers, but Mac persisted. He cares deeply about his art; he doesn’t sell or display it, mind you, and he hasn’t painted anything good since his wife Isabella justifiably left him four years ago. Still. Artist. Mac and Isabella met and married on the night of her society debut when she was 18 and he 23. Madly in love, their relationship was a roller coaster of honeymoon periods, his overwhelming behaviour, then disappearances and reappearances to repeat the cycle, until a pretty epic final straw.
The story begins after a 4 year separation, but includes flashbacks and excerpts from local gossip papers. Mac has decided that Isabella has had enough “space” and it is time to rebuild the relationship. Conveniently, his house burns down and he moves in with her. Sure. There is a lot of “Come here! Go away!” They love each other deeply, but Isabella is afraid of being hurt again, although she is willing to, um, consort with Mac. He is trying to show he is a better, calmer man, and sober. Did I mention he is a recovering alcoholic? Or the sub-plot about some crazy guy who is forging Mac’s works and just happens to look almost exactly like Mac because of course he does, and faux Mac paints Isabella nude from his imagimanation which freaks her out, despite the fact that it’s romantic when Mac does it, and helps them find their way back to one another and move forward with their lives? It’s how they do.
Many Sins of Lord Cameron Rake
For all my railing at the overkill, I did actually enjoy the first three books quite a bit, particularly this one. You just have to skip over chunks of ridiculous exposition lest one succumb to the desire to fling the book away from oneself with great force. I read them on Mr. Julien’s Kindle, so that would have been what is known as “a bad idea”.
Cameron owns and trains race horses which, I have to admit, is pretty cool. He’s a widower with a teenaged son, Daniel. His rampagingly mentally-ill wife killed herself during one of their arguments. The first Lady Cameron was so melodramatically insane that she makes the first Mrs. Rochester look a bit wistful. She was a violent, deranged, alley cat of a woman who beat, burned, and attempted to sexually violate him. Cam is supposed to be about 6’ 4” and brawny, but he let his wife hurt him, so that she would not hurt their infant son. Yet he didn’t, oh, I don’t know, institutionalize his wife, or seek proper help for her. This, apparently, shows loyalty. Cam’s a skooch damaged. Oh, and with a few exceptions, like the heroine of the book and his sisters-in-law, he
hates is deeply distrustful of women. That’s an interesting choice in a romance novel: the hero sees women as beautiful, rapacious toys, interested only in pleasure and presents. Swoon.
Into Cam’s life comes the widow Ainsley Douglas. She’s a good and kind woman, who has a scandal in her past, but don’t we all? Ainsley is a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, who either ignores Ainsley or is monumentally demanding according the whims of the author and needs of the plot. She is tasked with retrieving stolen love letters from the Queen to Mr. Brown (historical reference bonus +5, I guess) that just happen to be in the possession of Cam’s current mistress, who just happens to ALSO be a lady in waiting to the Queen. To sum up: blackmail, Queen, women untrustworthy, bad man owns good horse and must be thwarted subplot, Ainsley and Cam ♥.
On an up note, the fu*king monster of a father pretty much left Cameron alone.
I was willing to overlook over the histrionic elements in the first three books for the actually very charming and sincere love elements, but there is one more to go:
The Duke’s Perfect Wife Protector
So here with are with Hart. The earlier books hint at a very dark and shocking sexual history, including a propensity for violence, plus there’s that mistress he kept for years who tried to kill Beth in book one. Hart spent The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie treating Ian like a servant and Beth like a gold digger, and the subsequent books being an overbearing tyrant. Once upon a time engaged to Eleanor, she broke his heart and left him. I think it was because of the mistress, I can’t remember, whatever, it was ENTIRELY justifiable and she is ENTIRELY too understanding about everything. Hart married elsewhere and then lost both his wife (who was ENTIRELY terrified of him) and his infant son in rapid succession.
As this book begins, Hart has decided to win Eleanor back because, apparently, she’s his true love despite the whole long-standing-devoted-mistress-who-accomodated-his-fetishes-and-tried-to-kill-Beth thing. If this were virtually any other romance novel, this is when we would see beneath Hart’s anguish and turmoil to a deeply caring man, motivated only by love and duty, despite the seemingly impenetrable veneer of sexually-twisted tyrant. Good luck with that. Ashley spent three books setting him up as an irredeemable bastard with frightening proclivities and an all-consuming hunger for power. She did a great job. I hated him. He is not misunderstood, he is a fu*ing monster. I didn’t want to read about Hart’s true love for Eleanor, or the story gymnastics Ashley performed to make him bearable because it just wasn’t possible. I simply jumped through the book to visit the brothers and was glad when it ended.
Books are still being added to series. You will note that despite my protestations, I have read them all and a summary of Jennifer Ashley’s catalogue can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.