Miss Bates read Burrowes’ latest “lonely lord,” Andrew, in hopes that she’d get the original pleasure of reading her first Burrowes novel, The Heir. If Andrew had been her first Burrowes, she might have written this review more positively? However, for Miss Bates, as well as romance readers who find themselves beset with an author’s work near-monthly, reader fatigue has set in. Burrowes exhibits the same smooth, competent prose, the same caring characters and sexy scenes, the same concerns with family, love, and children, but it feels so very the same. This is because Burrowes’ Lonely Lords, or Lords of Despair as the cover subtitle indicates, are “ensemble romances,” romance novels whose concerns are not with the singular courtship and eventual HEA/marriage of a couple, but with the creation of a family saga made of couples in various HEA stages, between incipient and established. (Many a contemporary, small-town romance is guilty of this too.) Maybe Miss Bates’ romance-reading tastes are a tad passé, but she rather enjoys an old-fashioned antagonistic, sparring romance narrative like, let’s say for argument’s sake, Pride and Prejudice. Burrowes’ Andrew is not like that at all, with its surfeit of family politics, married couples, in utero offspring, or toddling around … and way too many clinical details about parturition.
Andrew is Lonely Lord #7, whose absence from home has resulted in five years of loneliness; the start of the novel sees him return to the family’s English bosom: to his brother, Gareth (Lonely Lord #6); his sister-in-law, Felicity; and, his friend, Astrid, the recently widowed Lady Allen, and Felicity’s sister. For five years, Andrew has been at the mercy of guilt and remorse over a boating accident that killed his father and a woman he thought he’d impregnated who, at the time, he also thought was engaged to Gareth. This accident has purportedly left Andrew emotionally crippled, unable to commit himself to a woman, unwilling to become a husband and father, and wracked with feelings of unworthiness. He left Astrid behind, whom he loved, in hopes she’d find happiness with another man. Astrid, in turn, married a boring, aristocratic spendthrift, who died in a hunting accident, leaving her penniless and pregnant. Andrew, though apparently a reprobate, rises to the occasion of this fine mess and spends the remainder of the book nursing the pregnant, fainting Astrid, marrying her to “keep her safe” when attempts are made on her life, and acting as midwife to Felicity. Andrew is a paragon, really, but can’t overcome his feelings of undeservedness and, darn it, never for a moment gives a hint of dissolute behavior. Ho-hum.
Miss Bates did not enjoy Burrowes’ characterization of Andrew as “nursemaid.” Their reunion scene establishes him thus, when he finds Astrid on the floor, mourning the husband she didn’t love:
… She didn’t know how long she remained kneeling on the floor, crying like a motherless child, but eventually she became aware she wasn’t alone. Hands settled gently on her shoulders.
“Astrid.” The voice was masculine and dear to her, but what Astrid responded to was the wealth of caring she heard, even in just her name. “Astrid, hush.” A pair of strong arms turned her against a broad masculine chest.
The characterizations of Astrid as helpless and Andrew as succoring are maintained throughout. It’s great that Burrowes creates loving, caring, gentle heroes, but frankly, it’s boring when they’re more nursemaid than partner. Andrew carries Astrid, feeds her, bathes her and, when they do become lovers, treats the love-making as a extension of the nursing; note this exchange, ” ‘We can stop, Astrid,’ he assured her gravely. ‘We can stop right now, because we both know this is not wise. I am not what you deserve.’ ” Oh brother, thought Miss Bates.
On the other hand, Andrew is a super-performing nursemaid hero, if Astrid’s ignorance is anything to go by when she exclaims, ” ‘You mean you can swive more than once?’ ” Eye-roll. Apparently, four or five “undeserving” times. If Burrowes is trying to achieve an ultimate fantasy figure in Andrew and if Miss Bates’ spinster-self speaks out of ignorance, then she’s got this romance novel wrong. Nevertheless, Miss B definitely could do without cloying domesticity, interspersed with a super-performing hero, both au pair & lover extra-ordinaire, in her romance-reading adventures.
With Andrew and Astrid not sharing even one antagonistic moment, with everyone so darn nice and honorable, Andrew suffers from a certain lack of tension. Thus, the long arm of the deus ex machina appears in the form of a cardboard villain, whose identity the reader figures out by chapter five. Thus Miss Bates made her desultory way to about 70% of the e-book, subsisting on the number of times the characters eat butter, or jam, preferably raspberry (which is Miss B’s favourite too.) Miss B kids you not, there’s a lot of jam consumption. Then, pun intended, Andrew and Astrid, though not fundamentally different from the novel’s start, burrow under Miss Bates’ skin and she begins to care about them. They kinda win her over though, as with Gabriel, it’s too little and too late to salvage the yawn-yawn-ness of a good two-thirds of the novel.
What can Miss B. tell you? If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll enjoy this addition: Burrowes delivers everything you’d expect of her work. On the other hand, Miss B. would say that it suffers from chronic niceness, a weakly characterized hero and heroine and the sameness of the previous six books, which are not to Miss B’s taste. Even the weeping hero scenes failed her. Herein she found only “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Miss Bates is grateful to Sourcebooks Casablanca for an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review. Andrew has been available since December 3rd and may be found for purchase in the usual places and formats.
What are the symptoms of “reader fatigue”?