How low a hero

I took another long haul train ride two weeks ago. $45 interstate fares have a tendency to mobilise me so I hopped on a 14 hour train to Queensland and visited the hatchback-hero-denier-and-in-all-other-ways-wonderful woman Sandra Antonelli and then hopped on another (2 hour) train to stay with amazing Rachel Bailey, both of whom are writer friends who put me through the thinking and writing paces to get my scholarly brain functioning.

Just as 2016 has been a shit and rubbish year for many people – from political recoil, particularly with the heart-wrenching realisation that the citizenry of the world prefers racist, bigoted, lying narcissists as their leaders (thanks Australia for Turnbull, Hanson and Roberts, thanks UK for your vile Brexit and OMG-that-horror-story-that-Stephen-King-couldn’t-imagine-yet-YA-could USA) to the loss of musical greats (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince), I have had a few of my own personal problems that surmounted to PhD writing meltdown. These long train rides during October and November have served me well in providing thinking and reading time. Though my main activity on the train rides has been university work, I did have enough travel time that I was also able to read some fiction. And on my northbound journey, I found myself grappling with Maisey Yates.

But first, the blurb:

Carides's Forgotten WifeCarides’s Forgotten Wife by Maisey Yates

Greek billionaire Leon Carides has it all: wealth, power, notoriety, even a wife—though he’s never touched his convenient, innocent bride. Then an accident rids this damaged, debauched playboy of his memories… 

Leon remembers nothing, except his wife’s sparkling blue eyes. Now the desire he feels for Rose overrides the gaps in his past, making her impossible to resist! But when his sins catch up with him, can Rose forgive the mistakes of the man he once was? Or will Leon lose more than just his memory?

This book surprised me and grabbed me and frustrated me but ultimately satisfied my yearning for deep, melodramatic, angsty, serious story of finding love and overcoming a deep and public betrayal and the impact of grief that is left unchecked.

When the blurb says “debauched” hero Leon is certainly that. In the book’s opening he is annoyed that he has struck out in seducing a rival’s fiancee away. He wanted to bed her. He loves his hedonistic life but he feels a twinge of guilt when he thinks about his wife. He is deliberate in not thinking about her, trying to forget her. At this point he has a head on collision with another car. Leon may have a wife at home but he is the lowest of low – he has hook-ups even though he is married. We then meet Rose – introverted, plain, pliable and living a quiet life archiving and cataloguing her father’s library*. We meet her as she walks in to her comatose husband’s hospital, upset because she had been planning on handing him his divorce papers. When Leon comes to, he does not remember anything about his life before his accident but he does like his wife. He recognises soon enough that there is a rift between the two of them and decides that he needs to seduce his wife (not from the hospital bed but once they are back home). The two get down and he is shocked to discover that his wife of 2 years is a virgin. He starts questioning their marriage, why were they married, why were they apart and he convinces Rose that regardless of the reason of being apart he would stay with her from hereon in. We slowly find out that Rose’s father had business mentored Leon and was instrumental in manoeuvring him into a marriage with introverted Rose who complied with her father’s wishes. The two of them finally forge a relationship, one that keeps Rose on edge despite amnesiac Leon’s assurances that the future will be better. And then the bombshell  that totally blindsided me! So much so that I think that it may just be a Mills & Boon first. IT IS SUCH A MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT HERE – READ BEYOND THE GIF AT YOUR WARNING).

woman in shock

One of Leon’s ex-hookups walks in with her lawyer and a 4 month old baby. She has the paternity tests and reveals that Leon has been paying for the baby’s keep but has not had anything to do with them. She no longer wants the baby and is leaving her for Leon to decide whether to adopt her out or not. And then she leaves.

SHOCK I TELL YOU! SHOCK!

Leon has no memory of this woman but the proof is  in the paperwork. His signature, his payments, his DNA.  Rose melts down. They were trying to forge a new beginning but this was no longer possible. Leon questions what sort of monster husband he had been before his amnesia to have had a child who he had signed away responsibility to and that he slept around while he was married. Things are grim as Leon regains some of his memory slowly slowly and reveals that he had previously been married with a child who died when Leon was 17.

This book gets darker and darker. Rose, in dealing with his constant betrayals becomes stronger and more determined to live life on her terms and not her (deceased) father’s terms (i.e. – marry older Leon who is anointed protector). Rose’s only demand from Leon is that he love her which he says that he cannot do so. But in the end he does.

What can I say about this story! There are so many issues. We know so little about Leon when we first meet him but slowly slowly Yates reveals him and his deep seated grief, his complexity and his reprobate behaviour. This is a difficult book to read. Leon has few redemptive qualities. He does everything to excess. He drinks excessively, he sleeps around. He is a man spiralling into hedonistic life. He is a man damaged by his past. The thing that really stood out to me is that here was a 33 year old struggling with grief which stems from deeply upsetting events from when he was 17 years old. The adults around teen Leon’s life should have stepped in to get him counselling immediately. He self-destructed. He spiralled and I kept waiting for Rose to tell him that they needed family counselling because dammit he had MAJOR issues and, I’m sorry to say this, finding love does not resolve all problems – it is just one less problem. On top of all his messed up grief issues, Leon was forced into marrying Rose but his sense of responsibility both to Rose’s father and to Rose’s father’s company keeps him from walking away from the situation. And frankly, I’m with Leon here. It is creepy for him to have considered a young woman whom he knew as a young teen as a match (he hadn’t). Totally. And this is where his amnesia was a perfect way for him to first meet his wife as equals. He had no memory of her as a young teen when he finally slept with her for the first time whereas prior to amnesia – yep, I too would have hit the bottle and found comfort in other women rather than stay with put-upon Rose.

I did like Rose but her introversion was presented as though it was a fault rather than just who she was. As though she needed to be stronger and more forthright as a person. Nope. She was just fine and should not have felt as a lesser to Leon. Leon is to blame, however her father is to blame much more for putting the two of them in this position at all. I really didn’t understand why she had not finished her degree and I also felt rather uncomfortable with her lack of gainful employment. I’m unused to Mills & Boon heroines being unemployed. And writing a family history while archiving your dad’s letters? It did make me wonder if Rose was 70 rather than 23. Perhaps Yates is also buying into the old myth that archives is a good job for introverts.

I was completely engrossed in this tension-filled story but the problem for me though was Maisey Yates’s writing style. It was navel gazing which invoked the rule of three

“She was drowning. In this. In him. In the desire”. (56).

Yeah but nah. I really dislike this style and it is spread throughout the book. I felt that there was way too much repetition too with thoughts constantly being reiterated. But when it comes down to it, these are just tiny issues in light of a book filled with incredible melodrama and tension. I loved Leon and Rose’s slow revelation of character from a complete, blank slate – man with no memory, to a man being slower pieced together both through his regaining his memory serving as a metaphor for a man that needs to be rebuilt and whose character finds redemption through love and finally connecting with emotions. The amnesia plot allows for a death and resurrection of a lost and corrupt soul, with life going forward at first unencumbered by the sins of Leon’s past and then with the knowledge that he could overcome his past as he had already managed it during his amnesiac weeks.

Will this love survive: I really enjoyed this book but I don’t think that Rose and Leon will make it in the long run without counselling.

Also, of late, I have really struggled with the representation of 1%er category romance heroes. The good-looking, gazillionaire made of steal waiting to be melted by a heroine with a heart of gold is a total stretch for me even at the best of times. Gandalf is more likely to exist. It is truly difficult to read about these “powerful” men without getting images of Trump violating my reading space. Unfortunately, with this book, it took me several chapters to get my attention focused on the characters in the book. I am now deliberately seeking out non-billionaire, mildly successful career men for heroes (geez – say goodbye to Mills & Boon Presents!). The sort of men that don’t make a statement with their transportation, men who don’t shout out their disdain for thieving, whoring women just because a woman once had the temerity to break up with him or to not be some perfect doyen. And I don’t believe in the converted bad boy. There is no such thing. The bad boy just has a momentary lapse into conscientiousness to ensure the he gets an easy access root at the end of the book. My tolerance for these type of heroes used to be high. I loved reading them. But I cannot bear them at the moment.

Instead, I want to read about heroes who work ethically. I want heroes who do not abuse women. I want a representation of men who are honourable dudes. Yates’s Leon has the bare bones of honourable man. But unless he gets some intense counselling for his grief and abandonment issues, he will spiral again. It is Movember, so despite my years ago unsuccessful call for Mos for Ros and I have yet to read about a 21st century moustachioed hero, let’s hope this dude gets the mental health help he needs. As for me, I am donating money to Movember [personal charity raising link]. My husband has been growing a mo all month to raise money. His Clark Gable mo makes me flinch but I tolerate my flinching because Men’s Health matters. Raising awareness and having services for all men matters. And I think it is especially important to do so at this point in history as, along with horrified women, there are lots of honourable men in our world who are appalled and grappling with their own masculinities as a consequence of the political shitfuck that is 2016.

I bought a copy of this book from a department store when it was a new release.

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11 thoughts on “How low a hero

  1. It was not actually a first for me! There was a two part HP series with the same event. (They had a brief fad for two-book stories for a bit; one set was by Penny Jordan and I think this set was Lynn Graham.) I can’t remember the title offhand, but can hunt it down if you’re interested.

    The naval-gazing is the *worst* part of modern Presents. They leave out almost all secondary characters now, not to mention locales and other descriptions, to have room for incessant internal monologuing.

    • OMG! I hated HATED the two-book category romances. Hated them with the red hot fury of a million suns. In case you haven’t read about my fury: https://shallowreader.com/2011/02/05/on-why-more-fairies-must-die/

      I am sooooo glad M&B dropped that idea super fast!

      I agree re the naval-gazing of HPs. They have stripped them bare of their tight storytelling that still managed to include settings and other characters. I wonder if it is because shorter novel reading is undervalued so many new authors aren’t accustomed to the form? Or is the *snore* internal monologue the slings and consequences of a post-50SoG editing bent. I hope not!

  2. […] ‘Also, of late, I have really struggled with the representation of 1%er category romance heroes. The good-looking, gazillionaire made of steal waiting to be melted by a heroine with a heart of gold is a total stretch for me even at the best of times. Gandalf is more likely to exist.’ — Vassiliki Veros, Shallowreader […]

  3. I came to Presents rather late in my category reading life, but I find when I hit upon a good one I practically inhale them. Something about the high-intensity, high-angst, high-fairy-tale blend goes down like a cold beer on a hot day. I drink too fast and end up tipsy and slightly hung-over from the experience 🙂

    I generally really like Yates’ HPs – but what you said. She can get a little navel-gazey and repetitive. But she’s so good at black moments and angst that I can roll with it. This one sounds right up my alley and during Harlequin’s last big sale I gobbled up the rest of Yates’ backlist that I was missing. So I know I have this lying around the digital TBR somewhere.

    Great review!

    • Yes! That intesity and angst is lacking in so much other fiction. I am constantly searching for that emotional sucker punch and Yates certainly managed to deliver. I hope you enjoy it too!

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