Not Quite a Lady, by Margo Maguire

>> Monday, November 15, 2004

What attracted me to Not Quite a Lady, by new-to-me author Margo Maguire was a hero who was suffering from some very real effects of his imprisonment and torture in Sudan, very similar to what attracted me to the very disappointing England's Perfect Hero, by Suzanne Enoch.

Beautiful and mysterious Lilly Tearwater was no lady. She was a fraud! With a wager at stake, Samuel Temple planned to find a scientific explanation for the mysterious apparitions that supposedly occurred at her inn and then settle down into a quiet, scholarly life. But Sam's plans fell apart when he met the exotic beauty, because she seemed to be practicing her magic on him!

Emotionally scarred from his recent captivity in the Sudan, Sam found the very thought of human touch — let alone intimacy — repugnant. But now he found himself desiring Lilly with every fiber of his being. And somehow Sam sensed that a decidedly unladylike Lilly could offer him the adventure of a lifetime....
Though the hero's issues were dealt with somewhat better here than they were in the Enoch book, ultimately, Not Quite a Lady was also a disappointment. My grade would be a C-.

At first, Sam and Lily were interesting chararacters. Both were globe-trotters at heart, but both found themselves rooted in England against their will, Sam by the traumas stemming from his imprisonment in Sudan, Lily by her responsabilities in England (basically, having promised to her adoptive mother that she would take care of her deaf sister). Their romance ended up freeing them. I was especially interested in Sam, who had had such a bad time in captivity that he now couldn't bear to be touched. This could have been such an interesting obstacle to be overcome, but though the problem wasn't simply put aside, as it was in England's Perfect Hero, I though the author could have got so much more out of it.

Part of the reason why she didn't was that the book was so busy. The length of a Harlequin Historical is better suited for an exploration of one major issue, not two biggies, like this and Lily's magic, and even a come-out-of-nowhere little suspense subplot near the end.

Let's start with Lily's magic. Oh, boy, Lily's magic! The concept was interesting, but the execution was just hugely frustrating. The author blew it in portraying the way Lily used her powers. I don't think any real person would act as she did. The main problem was that she was so very willy-nilly about it. See, whenever she performs some magic, there is an unpredictable effect. A huge storm, a tree falling down, a strange wind, a dead plant blossoming, a window breaking, stuff like that. So, at one point she says that for fear of these effects, she tries to do magic only when she doesn't see any other way out. What we see during the book, however, is the opposite. She uses her magic for stupid, unwarranted stuff (ripen a woman's vegetables, for instance, or quickly clean a room), but not for more important things, like to fix problems in her life. It is a real shame, because it could have been interesting.

I actually found the main use she gave her magic intriguing: she conjured "ghosts" so that her inn acquired a reputation for them and this brought her more guests. But even that didn't make all that much sense. So, it was ok to do this, to help with their money problems. Then, why didn't she simply conjure up some money? Why is it all right to use her magic to get money in a roundabout way, but not to save herself the trouble and do magic only one time and create money? After all, she's risking so many more unplanned consequences by making the ghosts appear so often than she would by making herself rich one time.

So, not only did this take away precious time from the more interesting issue in the book, it wasn't even that well done.

The romance was sweet, but I couldn't really bring myself to care all that much about it. Maguire tried to do this "hot" thing, but to me, the sexual tension never really got off the ground, however much I was told about their steamy fantasies about each other.

Too bad about all this, Not Quite a Lady was a book I was really ready to like.


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