Fiction: “Barely a Lady” by Eileen Dreyer

When I was a kid er, teenager, one of my favorite shows was, I kid you not, All My Children. Part of that was heritage: my mother has been a watcher of AMC since it started. I can vaguely recall episodes from the late ’80s, before I went to school full-time or when I was home sick. I know I remember the highly-touted special when Erica had some sort of weird coma-dream-scape where she searched for her father on a fake Hollywood movie set while she recovered from breaking her back after falling off a stage (and then she later gets addicted to painkillers, leaving her a recovering addict for all time – except when it’s convenient). Flash forward to the mid-90’s and I absolutely refused to watch this new show on the WB called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because evil Kendall was starring as the slayer. Kendall was evil! She tried to kill Dimitri with a letter opener when he wouldn’t sleep with her – his wife’s rape baby!

The point is, I grew up on a very ridiculous soap opera. One of the other storylines I remember was when Tad Martin lost his memory and became Ted Orsini, wine specialist. In other words, one of the classic amnesia plots.

And this finally brings me to Barely a Lady. I admit: in the past year, I have spent entirely too much money buying tawdry romance paperbacks, especially of the historical, Regency variety. The ones I’ve gotten around to reading have never ranked higher than a 2.5, and that one was full of Sleeping Beauty references. When I go to buy one of these trashy books, there are three things I look for: 1) The amount of bare male chest shown on the cover; 2) The title [extra points if it references a member of the not-so-ruling class, i.e., a duke, or an earl. And they must always be tempted or seduced]; and 3) the outlandishness of the characters’ names. Barely a Lady barely placed in all three categories. If you look at the cover (shown above), the most skin shown is on the woman, and look, whatever, but I prefer to gawk at male chest. If you want to call the “Lady” a reference to the female title, you can (and I think the author does), and I guess there’s a slight double entendre, but only if you squint. And the names are pretty commonplace, actually: Olivia Grace and Jack Wyndham (but remember what I said back when I read To Ruin the Duke: never use an ‘I’ when a ‘Y’ will work even better).

What got me to buy this book were two things: the subtitle, proclaiming this to be the first book in the “Drake’s Rakes” series — I mean, come on: I know that ‘rakes’ are popular characters in Regency fiction, but to have a pack of them belonging to a man named Drake? Seriously? — and the fact that Jack has lost his memory.

But oh, dear friends, not just lost his memory. See, Jack is British. This book takes place immediately following the battle of Waterloo. In 1815. Jack is found by his disgraced wife Olivia on the Waterloo battlefield wearing a French officer’s uniform. And he can’t remember why he was fighting for the French! Because not only did he lose his memory, he lost the past five years of memory. The last thing he remembers is going racing after a fox in the hunt, or something equally British. And while it’s a really bad thing to not remember which side you’re fighting on in a very important battle such as freakin’ Waterloo, it’s even worse to completely forget that the woman who rescued you is no longer your wife, but your ex-wife. And that you were the one who turned her out of house and home because you thought she was cheating on you with her cousin [who turns out to be gay!], and not only do you throw her out of your rich mansion, but you also throw her out penniless and pregnant.

Oh, but PS, it turns out that it was just your cousin feeding you lies about your (now) ex-wife because your cousin lusts after her and wants her for himself because he’s jealous of you.

If you can’t follow the second person: Olivia and Jack married. Jack’s an Earl, Olivia’s a commoner. But they were deeply in love. But Gervaise (Jack’s cousin) is evil and lusty and wants Olivia because he wants whatever Jack has. So Gervaise gets Jack to believe that not only is Olivia a gambler, but she’s also boinking her cousin [remember – he turns out to be gay!]. When Jack finds Olivia and the cousin in a compromising position, he throws her pregnant self out and then kills her cousin in a duel. That’s 1810. The next time they see each other, Olivia’s been pretending to be a commoner and a companion of bitter old ladies and their daughters in Belgium, but now she’s helping out with the wounded and dead of Waterloo, and oh boy, there’s her ex-husband, wearing a Frenchman’s uniform. So she rescues him, but when he wakes up, he thinks it’s still 1810 and they’re still married and in love.

Awkward.

I pretty much gave the farm away with this one, but dudes – this is a soap opera at Waterloo. If Agnes Nixon wrote this, it would be called If Memory Serves or some such nonsense.

So why, after all of that, do I feel the need to rate this 1.5 stars?

The point-five is for amnesia.

Grade for Barely a Lady: 1.5 stars

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