Why must Sara Seale insist on making so many of her heroines plain? And in the case of poor Sarah, constantly harping on about her plainness through the mouth of every character including the hero. Honestly, one starts to wonder if she is somehow deformed.
Even in the final few pages of romantic denouement, there’s this backhander from hero Adam Soames:
“For me you will always have charm, no matter how plain you look…”
“Dear Professor” (also he’s not a professor, nor ever was) might have been more palatable if the hero didn’t frequently snog the heroine’s exquisitely beautiful cousin in the first half of the book, and – scandalous for Seale! – there’s this:
“He could feel the tears still wet on her cheeks to remind him of his clumsiness as he kissed her, but her mouth was eager and knowledgable under his and the sudden pressure of her breasts warm and hard.”
Just to clarify: this is NOT the heroine, it’s the beautiful-bitch-cousin. The heroine enjoys nothing remotely so passionate and sensual. But given how utterly hideous we are reminded that she is on practically every page, that’s perhaps no wonder.
The whole premise of the book is just bizarre, but then so is the premise of many of these vintage Mills & Boons/Harlequins. To summarise: Adam meets beautiful-bitch Sylvie at a party. He goes on an expedition and they write to one another. At some point plain-Jane Sarah takes over the letter writing. Adam returns, with a mind to romance/marry Sylvie, but of course she’s actually vain and shallow, and it takes him far too long to figure out the letter writer is her 18-year-old cousin Sarah.
The thing is with “ugly heroines” is that romance novels heroines are not supposed to be actually ugly, because the reader is supposed to relate to them/identify with them. They’re supposed to be undiscovered beauties, their true and more enduring loveliness temporarily hidden under a bushel for the hero to finally uncover – after which the Other Woman’s charms appear brittle and artificial in comparison.
Ultimately while some of Sara Seale’s novels are enormous fun, despite their implausibility, this one just wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. The hero seems weird, the family are toxic, and the heroine is so damn plain and odd and awkward that you rather wish she’d stay under her bushel.