on Dec. 29, 2016
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The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.
Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage…
Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.
Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.
But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.
A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.
Let me be clear: two stars means “It was OK,” not “it was terrible.” In other words, I didn’t think it was awful; I didn’t particularly dislike the book, and I may even read the next one… but there was very little romantic tension, the mystery isn’t all that gripping so far, and there’s a lot more “telling” than I expect from Laurens. Add to that the rather fulsome prose Laurens is prone to in her sensual scenes, and what could have been an exciting story is simply… OK. That would be fine from a beginning author, but is very disappointing from one of the big names in historical romance.
As in the earlier Black Cobra Quartet, the mystery in the Adventurers Quartet will be spread over four books. Judging by the first book, however, it is not nearly as compelling as the Black Cobra story. Where in the previous series, the principal characters faced significant danger throughout each book, in The Lady’s Command, the danger is more nebulous and only comes to a head twice; both times, it is resolved relatively easily. Even the mystery itself is less well-defined than in the Black Cobra series. Instead of a cult of assassins and cuthroats terrorizing Indian villages, in The Lady’s Command the mystery revolves around a handful of missing officers, presumably disappeared into the jungle around Freetown (in West Africa.) Moreover, Wolverstone (a.k.a. Dalziel), who appears as the unofficial head of the sub-rosa investigation, behaves with uncharacteristic caution, issuing Declan more restrictive orders than Dalziel normally gave his agents in the past. This serves to prolong the investigation over four books, but diminishes any sense of urgency in The Lady’s Command, and leaves little room for either initiative or the unexpected.
As for the romantic tension, it is practically nonexistent. The book opens with the hero and heroine already married. I don’t see that as a drawback as long as the relationship arc has somewhere to go and the main characters grow and develop throughout the book. Sadly, in The Lady’s Command, there is little conflict between Edwina and Declan. They love each other (without telling each other so in words), they’re committed to and happy about their marriage, and they’re both enjoying the physical aspects of their relationship. The only “conflict” is that they have different ideas regarding how their marriage should be conducted: along traditional lines (Declan) or as a true partnership (Edwina.) Laurens could have developed this unspoken disagreement into a true conflict, one which would require compromise, change, and growth on both their parts. Instead, she resolves it fairly easily and without much discussion, let alone argument, between the pair. I’m sure her intent was to focus on the mystery, but as I’ve already pointed out, the mystery is also less compelling than it could be.
Laurens also resorts to far more exposition than she used to, “telling” the story or the characters’ thoughts and motivations rather than letting us see, hear, and infer them through dialogue and action. I don’t mean to imply that there is no action, no dialog; both are there, but the expository sections sometimes had the effect of distancing me from the action and reducing the intensity of my involvement.
The overall result is a book that feels rather bland, which is not what I usually expect from Stephanie Laurens — although after her recent books, perhaps I should have expected it. She’s become much more formulaic in terms of her characters as well as her plots. It makes me feel rather disheartened, to be honest. At her best, with the first six or eight Cynster novels, she quickly became one of my favorite romance authors. It saddens me to realize I’m now reading her merely for old times’ sake.