The Masterful Mr Montague, by Stephanie Laurens

8 Jul

The Masterful Mr MontagueA few years ago–don’t ask me how long, but it’s probably around a decade or so–I discovered Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster novels, thanks to the good offices of my friendly neighborhood used book seller. Being the obsessive little reader that I am, I read all of the Cynster books (including that horrible bit of revisionist history that is The Promise in a Kiss¹) up to The Taste of Innocence (number 14 in the series). At that point, for reasons explained below, I broke up with Ms Laurens.

Years went by, and then, a few weeks ago I happened to see this title at the grocery store, and even though I certainly do not need any more books in the house,² I gave in to my known weakness and read the back cover blurb.

Oh hey, it’s not yet another Cynster book!³ And lo and behold, the protagonists are not from the aristocracy! Snap, will you look at that, our male protagonist has been mentioned in a minor capacity throughout several of the first dozen books, starting with the very first, Devil’s Bride.

Of course I’m intrigued, and in the basket it goes. And, as luck would have it, not too much later, it was read. Here’s the reult.

(Reader beware: this is more rant than review, and as such, it’s spoilery.)

Without further ado, the afore mentioned blurb (from the author’s site):

Montague has devoted his life to managing the wealth of London’s elite, but at a huge cost: a family of his own. Then the enticing Miss Violet Matcham seeks his help, and in the puzzle she presents him, he finds an intriguing new challenge professionally . . . and personally.

Violet, devoted lady-companion to the aging Lady Halstead, turns to Montague to reassure her ladyship that her affairs are in order. But the famous Montague is not at all what she’d expected—this man is compelling, decisive, supportive, and strong—everything Violet needs in a champion, a position to which Montague rapidly lays claim.

But then Lady Halstead is murdered and Violet and Montague, aided by Barnaby Adair, Inspector Stokes, Penelope, and Griselda, race to expose a cunning and cold-blooded killer who stalks closer and closer. Will Montague and Violet learn the shocking truth too late to seize their chance at enduring love?

As I mentioned above, it had been a few years since I last read a new book by Ms Laurens. Perhaps because I had found and read most of Ms Laurens’ old Harlequin/Mills and Boon Regencies, as well as the Bastion Club novels that had come out, all in a relatively short space of time, I had grown weary of her writing voice. There was, I felt, too much reliance on both shortcuts (“a true Cynster” = honorable, strong, arrogant; being “born to be a duchess,” and the like) and stereotypes (the incredibly old, incredibly intelligent, incredibly insightful, incredibly influential grande dame of the ton, Lady Obaldestone, to name just one), and on the rather large cast of characters introduced in previous novels.

And there was also a not very subtle  disdain for any given character who didn’t belong to the cream of the ton that just rubbed me wrong. They could be good people, ethical and obviously helpful, but simply were never considered hero or heroine material on their own right, unless they were related to one degree or another to an old aristocratic family. (I.e., not everyone had to be a duke, but their family tree better had been planted about the same time as that of Devil Cynster, Duke of St Ives.)

Still, I have enjoyed some of Ms Laurens earlier works very well indeed, so when I found this one conveniently at hand during a recent insomnia attack, I mentally shrugged and dived in.

And boy, do I regret it.

I am honestly not sure I would have finished this book without a) the insomnia, and b) the curiosity to see just how far the WTF factor would go. Answer: quite far, actually, and in several different directions.

Okay, let’s take the so-called main characters.

If you go by the blurb alone, you might be forgiven to think that the novel centers around Montague and Violet. You probably would expect most of the page space to be devoted to the development of their relationship, perhaps a couple of relatively mild sexy times here and there. (And I say relatively because, while a bit purple, there’s plenty of sexy times in the first several Cynster novels–and it’s explicit enough as well.)

Yes, there’s supposed to be a mystery subplot because, hello! part of the Casebook of Barnaby Adair offshoot series, buy hey, that can be used to further develop Violet and Montague’s relationship, right? And yes, there is specific mention in the blurb to four other characters, so I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that there should be several storylines, some pertaining these two other couples, or at least, a few scenes from their  points of view, or some such.

Instead? There are perhaps four, five scenes in the whole four hundred and fourteen pages, where these two characters are alone with each other. Yes, you read that right. The rest of the book? All about everyone else.

Hell, the villain gets at least as much, if not more, page time than Violet and Montague.

In fact, about a third, if not more, of the book revolves around Penelope and Barnaby, and their relationship, and how they are balancing having a baby with their investigations and so on and so forth and blah blah blah and who the hell cares?

Where’s Violet and Montague’s relationship? What are their stories? Why am I supposed to believe they grow to care for each other? How can they, when they are never in each other’s company–or, when they are, they are also surrounded by four to six other people, all of whom are given more dialogue and page space than them!

How am I supposed to give two figs about either of these two, let alone care whether they actually end together, when they are more background decoration for the Penelope and Barnaby show than anything else?

Honestly, the entire book felt like little more than an excuse for Ms Laurens to expound on the intricacies–if you’ll forgive me for making them sound waaaaaaay more interesting and important than they actually are–of Penelope and Barnaby’s marriage.

And yet, there’s worse to come.

Because, if you’ll remember, there are yet two other people mentioned in the blurb, Griselda and Stokes. As far as I know, I haven’t read either theirs or Barnaby and Penelope’s story, though it may well be buried somewhere in the ever-sprawling, forever teetering TBR mountain range. However, one might suppose that, given how much freaking space is devoted to Penelope and Barnaby as a couple, at least some space would be given to Griselda and Stokes in the same manner.

And you’d be completely wrong.

Whether by chance or by design, it so happens that the only relationship that gets any in depth attention (and gah, it actually gets at least a dozen times more attention than it deserves) is that of the only aristocratic couple of the three.

They are also the one couple that, as far as the reader knows, actually enjoy sex after marriage; Penelope and Barnaby get something like six sex scenes. If and when a reference is made to Stoke and Griselda’s marriage, there’s nary a hint of sex, or even desire, between them.

But, alas! This is not even the worst bit.

See, I always thought that authors grew out of writing sex scenes full of exploding galaxies and magical extrasensory ‘planes’ where souls connect and unicorns fart special fairie dust and shit, and gradually wrote more realistic, straightforward sex scenes.

Boy, was I mistaken. Those sexy times? Holy purple prose, Batman.

The sex described in this book has nothing to do with actual body parts. Hell, there’s not even any actual action–like embracing or touching, let alone penetration or, hell, even movement of any kind. The most we get is to see Barnaby panting a bit after having “celebrated life” with Penelope. But for our eponymous Mr Montague and his non-aristocratic wife? There are looks that spawn entire paragraphs of overwrought prose where we are told what the characters feel and what they intend and how it translates into their future. There are… No, let me show you.

This is the singular “sex” scene for Montague and Violet, on page 413 (they have just kissed, for the second time in over four hundred pages, then):

She whispered against his lips, “Yes.”

Violet didn’t need to say more.

Not to him–the man who looked at her with love and passion in his eyes, solid and true and unwavering.

She could never question the rightness of this–could not doubt the sense of falling in with destiny as she let him lead her into his bedroom and close the door.

What followed…was a reflection of them, of who they were, the straightforward, honest and true people they knew no other way to be. They offered themselves up–to each other, to the glory that erupted and swept through them.

And it goes on in the same ridiculous vein for about half a page more.

What the hell????

No, I’m serious, what the hell happened here?

Look, it’s not as if Ms Laurens ever wrote particularly graphic sex scenes, and her language always tended toward the purple, but at least the sex was recognizably sex and not strings of meaningless words masquerading as deep feelings.

And no, this is not sentimental recollection of previously enjoyed books talking–I actually grabbed my copy of Devil’s Bride and read it immediately after finishing The Masterful Mr Montage, because I just couldn’t believe that both were written by the same person, let alone that the later was published sixteen full years after the former.

Yes, there’s a lot of the class distinction and shortcuts that so annoyed me later on, already present in Devil’s Bride, but there’s also seduction, and some pretty torrid embraces, and encounters where body parts are named. There’s thrusting and stretching and fluids and panting and gasping and the like.

In short, there’s SEX pretty much as people actually have it.

Not to mention, at least one, if not both, of the two people Devil’s Bride is supposed to be about appear in every. single. page.

I rest my case.

The Masterful Mr Montague is anything but, though it did serve the purpose of forever curing me of any curiosity regarding Ms Laurens oeuvre.

This book gets a 4.00 out of 10


 ~ ~ * ~ ~

¹ In the words of Kat from Book Thingo:

Devil’s Bride is the first of the Cynster books; however, the eighth book published for this series, The Promise in a Kiss, is a prequel to Devil’s BrideThe Promise in a Kiss features Devil’s parents, Sebastian and Helena, and on its own is a relatively enjoyable book. Unfortunately, one look at the family tree shows that Sebastian later fathers a child with another woman. This is the worst betrayal imaginable to me as a romance reader; it’s the reason I’ve refused to read another Laurens novel for years. I’m still offended, to be honest, but it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten Sebastian’s story and no longer have any emotional investment in Helena’s HEA. But it still makes me very sad and reluctant to keep reading the series.

² Honestly, there are unread books shelves and piles in every room in this house, and pretty much on any flat surface in my room–up to and including the floor next to the bedside table (and these later piles are scary high, too).

³ Call me picky, but at this point there are 20 Cynster books, one for each single character named in the original family tree that appears in Devil’s Bride. The last one, Mary? She’s three or so at the beginning of the series, presumably nearing 20 during the course of her own story, and I know that some readers just love this, but as far as I’m concerned, not every character in the background needs a book, and many are just not interesting enough to begin with. Alas, I’m in the minority.

3 Responses to “The Masterful Mr Montague, by Stephanie Laurens”

  1. kaetrin 08/07/2014 at 7:19 AM #

    I broke up with Laurens a while ago. This one sounds particularly dire – 4/10 seems generous! I can’t cope with the triptych adjectives – it’s never good enough to say something once – it has to be said three times.

    Devil’s Bride and On a Wicked Dawn (which was my first Laurens) and a couple of others are ones I regard as keepers but as far as anything new is concerned, I’m out.

    I remember Devil and Honoria’s wedding night where she was such a virgin that he needed a special position to “broach” her. So yes, I completely agree with you about the sex scenes!

    • azteclady 10/07/2014 at 8:00 PM #

      You know, I debated the grade quite a bit. But I gave Julianne MacLean’s horror of a book a 4/10 as well, and this, as uneven and biased and prejudiced and….all the rest, was not worse than that.

      So I felt kind of stuck with the grade.

      Does that make any sense?

      • kaetrin 10/07/2014 at 9:02 PM #

        of course 🙂

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