Oh dear. I feel like a party pooper. Jennifer Ashley's The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie has gotten great reviews. I expected to like it. But I won't be finishing it.
I usually enjoy stories with characters who don't fit into their societies, who must learn how to cope with the difficulties that brings while remaining true to themselves. I looked forward to getting to know Lord Ian, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome in Victorian England, a time and place that would label people like him as, at best, eccentric, and at worst, mad. I wanted to see if Jennifer Ashley could write a believable romance given Lord Ian's social limitations.
But I just didn't find the heroine, Beth, at all believable in the 85 pages I managed to read.
Ashley boxed herself in by establishing right up front that Lord Ian and his brothers are regarded as disreputable, scandalous, even dangerous. So much so that any unattached woman seen in their presence would immediately be ruined socially.
Ashley gave me no hint in 85 pages WHY the family has such a bad reputation. But putting that aside, she makes it clear Beth is aware of Lord Ian's reputation. Added to that is the hero's imposing physical presence (big, broad shouldered) and his puzzling, even threatening social behaviors (not looking anyone in the eye, no observing of social niceties). Ashley sets up a situation in which any prudent heroine, no matter how sympathetic to Ian's sufferings, would behave with at least SOME caution.
So how does Beth, the vicar's widow recently come into wealth, behave? (Remember, the book is set in 1881, in the middle of Queen Victoria's reign.)
First meeting: Ian, deciding he wants Beth in his bed, reveals her fiancé not only keeps mistresses but has some unusual sexual tastes. He then promptly proposes to her himself. Beth not only allows him to kiss her passionately but comes very close to accompanying him home for the night.
Second meeting: Ian kisses Beth, nibbles her earlobe and asks her a deeply personal, intimate question. Which she ANSWERS. Then Ian tells Beth he wants no other man touching her. (Danger, Will Robinson, danger!) She responds, "I don't think I mind that."
Between the second and third meetings: Beth learns Ian is the prime suspect in the stabbing deaths of two prostitutes. (Oh, but she knows Ian CAN'T be a killer. She trusts him. She certainly lusts after him.)
Third meeting: Beth blatantly offers to become Ian's mistress.
I don't care that Beth enjoyed sex with her first husband and misses a man's touch. I don't care that she feels sympathy for this misunderstood, tortured hero (whom she's just barely met). Beth is Too Stupid To Live.
Also, Beth accepts drawing lessons from Lord Ian's brother (another social pariah she meets once) and agrees to share lodgings with his estranged wife (again, after meeting her once). Yep. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Need I mention the repetitive, sloppy writing? (In one scene, Beth is described as a mediocre pianist with stiff hands, then her "nimble fingers" are "tripping across the keyboard.") Or the book heading in the direction of "clichéd murder mystery the heroine will try to solve, get herself in danger and have to be rescued by the hero" rather than the character-driven story I expected?
Sorry. I just have too many problems with this book to finish it. My grade: DNF