Review: Never Fall For Your Fiancée, by Virginia Heath
The more I sit back and think about this book the more I think it was just bad.
It had a lot of promise, as it combines some of my favourite historical romance tropes - fake-relationship and forced-proximity - but the story is badly handled and so it just felt needlessly, horrifically long. I very rarely find myself going "okay, there's only a hundred pages left of this book, you can power through on this bus ride" about a romance novel unless the novel is bad and the plot is a slog. Which, sadly for Virginia Heath, is what happened here.
Quick breakdown of the plot: Hugh, Earl of Something-or-Other, has made up a fiancée to write to his mother about so she'll leave him alone about getting married. He conveniently helps to rescue a damsel in distress named Minerva, which is the name of his fake fiancée; convinces her to move to his estate to pretend to be engaged to him for the length of his mother's visit (his mother has married an American and lives in Boston; considering how much is made of this at the beginning you'd think this would come back to be an important plot point but reader, it is not) and for whatever reason this woman AGREES; everything spirals from there. It is the sheer ludicrousness of every historical romance out there but with absolutely nothing to make the bonkersosity of the plot actually enjoyable, or any of the good bits that romance writers usually include to make a silly narrative seem vaguely plausible.
Here's the big thing that I just could not get past no matter how hard I tried: the big hang-up that Hugh, the male romantic lead, has is that he's worried that if he gets married, he will be unfaithful to his wife because his grandfather and his father were both unfaithful. He keeps referring to 'his tainted bloodline' and 'the Standish male is incapable of being faithful' because he... thinks adultery is an inherited genetic trait? I mean, I realise that this is 1825 and so they don't have the firmest grasp of genetic science yet, but surely - surely - even then they would have known that adultery is a choice that individuals make. Worried about being unfaithful, Hugh? Just don't cheat. Don't make that choice. There, I've solved your problem for you and it didn't even take 356 pages and an entirely convenient, entirely out of nowhere, entirely shitty deus ex machina conversation with your estranged mum on the second-to-last page of the novel (the big reveal is that his dad actually wasn't unfaithful, 17-year-old Hugh had just misinterpreted a situation and then spent another seventeen years avoiding having a conversation with his mum about it! And once he does, lo and behold, he no longer carries the genetic predisposition to adultery because his father wasn't actually an adulterer!) to miraculously think you can suddenly propose. Good fucking grief.
Also, Virginia, for the love of God - invest in a thesaurus so you can use a phrase other than 'tainted bloodline'. You're not talking about the Targaryens here.
And the dialogue was just so awful - it was somehow both totally anachronistic and also too pat, to the point where I was legitimately cringing every time there was a scene between the butler and one of the gentry characters.
Like I said in the intro, absolutely none of the fun romance bits were there to add up to a plausible narrative or an enjoyable story: there was only one sex scene and quite frankly it was not arousing (no foreplay, straight to penetration, Minerva is somehow miraculously not bone dry and immediately orgasms, WHOSE FANTASY IS THIS VIRGINIA FFS); the set up for the next novel (I assume it's Giles and Diana, but honestly, I'm not going to read it so who cares) was not done; the secondary and supporting characters are so paper-thin and flat as to seem somehow less human than even cardboard cutouts; and everybody, everybody, makes stupid decision after stupid decision without ever learning, every single piece of dialogue and character development goes beyond deliberate misinterpretation and miscommunication into lands of bad parody of romance tropes.
Nobody read this book - it's actually unbearable.