Fiction: “Shameless” by Karen Robards

ShamelessOh good, another book from the library where I didn’t take notes!

This was the second of three hardcover romance novels I picked up back in January by authors I’d heard of or at least read before. I’m pretty sure I’ve read something by Karen Robards before – it just happens to predate this blog. If I have read something by Ms. Robards, it was one of her contemporary romances – I didn’t realize she wrote historicals until I picked this one up.

I also didn’t realize until I entered the book into my Goodreads account that this is the third book in a trilogy. Luckily for me and my weird OCD-ishness about this type of thing, it didn’t really matter and I did not need to have read the other two to know what was going on.

(And let’s be real for a second here – even with other historical romance series, there’s no actual need for me to read them in order. I wholly admit I’m very, very weird about that sort of thing.)

So. This book starts with a dude sneaking into a mansion’s library while a ball is going on. The dude, Neil Severin, happens to be an assassin. And as he’s lying in wait for his target to appear, the Lady Elizabeth storms in, her latest fiance in tow, in the middle of a fight. Neil hides behind the curtain and watches Beth’s fiance try to save his reputation by assaulting Beth.

See, Beth is apparently a “shameless” flirt, in that she’s had two engagements and has broken off each. This fiance refuses to be the third castoff, so he rips her bodice and attempts to get her in a compromising position. Unfortunately for you, my readers, I can’t remember how the situation was resolved – I want to think Beth hit him over the head with a poker? But it may have been Neil or someone else, but whatever – the engagement is over, and Neil had spent a good few minutes staring at Beth’s tits.

And look – what I do remember, without having written it down, was how much of a big deal was made of Beth’s bosom. I vaguely recall that it was described as “spectacular”, I want to say, multiple times? I mean, it was very hyperbolic. At moments, it felt like the novel was written through the male gaze, and guys – that’s fine and all, tits are great, yay tits, but they aren’t the reason I read historical romance novels.

Anyway. So Neil helps Beth out of her scrape and then Beth helps Neil get out of the library, and I think Neil convinces Beth he was a thief, and I think I remember being excited that maybe, this book was a Regency-version of How To Steal a Million, one of my favorite movies of ALL. FREAKING. TIME, but goddammit, it wasn’t.

In How To Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn’s character is the daughter of an art forger, and Peter O’Toole is the guy who’s trying to catch him, and one night he breaks into their house and lies and says he’s a burglar, and then when Audrey Hepburn needs to steal a forged statue from a museum where her father had put it on display (because it would definitely fail the authentication tests the museum puts it through), she calls Peter O’Toole and asks him to help her rob a museum, and shenanigans ensue and it’s DELIGHTFUL.

This book was not delightful.

Beth helps Neil leave the building and agrees to meet up with him in a park or something later to pay him, maybe? But when she gets to the park she gets KIDNAPPED and I think it turns out the kidnapping was orchestrated by Beth’s jilted fiance? But Neil is in the park and manages to track her down, but she had not only been kidnapped, but kidnapped to be auctioned off as a sex slave in some weird sex slave cult or something.

It’s weird, you guys.

But Neil manages to — I don’t think Neil bids for her, but he manages to find her and they try to make their escape, but Beth refuses to leave the other women she’s bonded with as prisoners, so reluctantly, Neil allows six other women to accompany him on his rescue mission, and shenanigans ensue.

On the way back to London, Neil sticks very close to Beth, because (according to Goodreads, I definitely didn’t remember this part), Neil wants to “kidnap” Beth to draw her brother-in-law out so he can kill him, because remember, Neil is an assassin! Neil is a spy and Beth’s brother-in-law pretty much burn noticed Neil, and now Neil wants to kill the brother-in-law to save his own hide.

Except he falls in love with Beth and Beth decides the best way to save everyone – her reputation, her brother-in-law, and Neil – is to marry Neil, that way no one will kill each other and also she won’t be “ruined” anymore.

The plot was kind of ludicrous, to be honest. Crazy sex cults? Like, I know they probably existed back then, but man, this plot resembled the insanest parts of Dynasty at times. And you know I love me some Dynasty, but this was even more over-the-top than that.

And I don’t know why, in being more over-the-top than Dynasty, I did not like the book. Maybe because there was no humor involved? Dynasty winks at everything – “look at how stupid this is, Fallon’s trying to sell Carrington Atlantic to the Van Kirks, except that the Van Kirks think she’s married their son, Liam [who I thought his name was Jack? Why is everyone still calling him Liam?!] so she has to pretend to be married to Liam so the sale will go through, except her “father-in-law” propositioned her and won’t sell unless she visits him in his penthouse, so to get out of that Fallon hires an escort that looks a lot like her, leaves Papa Van Kirk blindfolded in the penthouse and tags the escort in so that Fallon can fly to Atlanta to be at her best friend’s club’s opening, and then she gets a call that Papa Van Kirk died after sex with the escort.”

I don’t know why I find “Neil has to rescue Beth from being kidnapped when he was supposed to be the one to kidnap her and when he gets to where she’s been taken she’s about to be auctioned off as part of this weird sex cult, but he rescues her in time but she won’t go without like, six other girls, so he reluctantly agrees to help them escape the castle, and it involves a lot of running around in basements and catacombs and trudging through forests but they finally get away so he brings Beth to an inn where they can stay the night and he needs to figure out how to re-use her as bait to lure her brother-in-law to rescue Beth from Neil so Neil can kill her brother-in-law” less interesting than the fake Fallon sex heart attack plot I described up there. Maybe it’s a visual thing. I just …

Maybe Neil didn’t seem believable as a hard-ass assassin? And Fallon seems absolutely believable as the type of person to hire an escort to have sex with her fake father-in-law so she can seal a business deal. Maybe that’s the reason.

I don’t know. It didn’t suck? I mean, I think I read it fairly quickly, overall. The plot and characters were more memorable than the ones in Otherwise Engaged, by a long shot, but this is still not a book I think I’d read again.

Grade for Shameless: 1 star

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