The Squire's Daughter, by Deborah Simmons

>> Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I bought The Squire's Daughter when I was acquiring all of Deborah Simmons backlist, after enjoying books like her de Burgh medievals, The Gentleman Thief and the Regency quartet that includes The Last Rogue. TSD is a very early book in Simmons' career.

book coverJustin St. John would always remember the day his little pixie had ridden up to Worth Hall, her limpid eyes as big as saucers. But nothing could have prepared him to see Clare again, grown-up, beautiful…and nearly betrothed to a madman! He couldn’t just sit back and watch the innocent Clare ruin her life….

Clare Cummings had thought she could save her childhood prince from the curse of his melancholy. Youth must have addled her brain. Now, here he was again, acting as if she needed his help! Justin’s behavior hardly befitted a prince, so why was she still drawn to the infamous marquis?
Usually when I don't finish a book what happens is that I'm having trouble reading on, but more for an accumulation of problems than for any specific things (unless it's because of the writing style, that is). I stop, decide not to go on, decide to give it another try, read for a while, stop, rinse and repeat, until I give it up for good.

With TSD, it wasn't like that. I was reading on quite well... not really loving the book, because there were some things that annoyed me, but the book was readable enough. And then things came screeching to a halt.

The plot concerns a young virginal hero and a rake (*sigh* of course). 18-year-old Clare is the squire's daughter in question, and she's in London, sent by her father to find a husband. Unbeknownst to her, her father has pretty much arranged a match with a guy named Farnsworth.

But a few years earlier, when she was just a girl, Clare had befriended a neighbour, a young rake in his early 20s. Their friendship ended when Clare's father discovered she'd been visiting Justin and threatened him if he saw her again. For the next two years, they didn't see each other, but when Justin finds out that she's supposed to be marrying Farnsworth, he hits the ceiling.

Apparently, this guy is absolutely horrible. I'm not exactly sure what the evil things he did were, because I didn't read that far, but from Justin's thoughts, we're talking budding psychopath. So to save Clare from him, and as a last resort, because none of her family will listen to his warnings, Justin arranges with the squire to marry Clare himself.

This is an idea Clare doesn't like at all. She's been in love with Justin since she first met him; how can she marry the man she loves so much when he so obviously doesn't want to marry her for love? You know the type of thing, pretty common romance-novel reaction. Blah, blah, blah.

So anyway, I was reading happily enough until page 85. Farnsworth has just finished trying to assassinate Justin's character, by hinting about a young woman whose death he says Justin caused, a young woman who died of what he says was an "accidental" fall, while carrying Justin's child. When he leaves, Justin tells Clare the whole story. It had happened when he was 18. Yes, the young woman (a 16-year-old) was pregnant by Justin, and yes, the fall that killed her wasn't accidental. She threw herself out of a window because Justin wouldn't marry her.

And then comes the kicker. Clare thinks:

"So you blamed yourself", she said. (...) And drank to escape your guilt, Clare thought. And perhaps used women for the same reason -to forget something that shouldn't really be laid at your door. Irresponsible males of all ages were always getting foolish young women in the family way. It was scandalous, but it was not a matter of life and death, not a matter of suicide and lifelong torment.
Say what? It's not? Have we suddenly time-traveled into a big city in the 21st century or are we still in a small town in the 19th? So Justin shouldn't be blamed at all, because boys will be boys and he was just an "irresponsible male", Clare? May I remind you he was the same age you are now? Of course, of course, the decision to commit suicide was the girl's, but the idiot man should damn well be blamed for doing things that would have resulted in ruining a woman's life, even if she hadn't killed herself!

To be completely clear, it's not Justin's behaviour per se that made me throw the book against the wall. I don't require him to be a paragon of virtue. He did something wrong, but sure, he could have been redeemed by Simmons, I don't doubt that. It's Clare's careless whitewash of his character that burns my ass. It's her complete dismissal of the other's woman tragedy that gets me.

If I had been loving the book up until then, I might have continued reading, just to see if Simmons would fix this, but since I'd already been thinking Clare was a bit of a silly twit and that a lot of the plot felt clich├ęd, I just don't want to continue reading. This gets a big, fat DNF.

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