Why I Listened: That's a question I asked myself numerous times throughout the book. Seriously though, I reviewed it for the Speaking of Audiobooks column at AAR but my review (rant) is just too long for the column. So, with permission, I'm posting it here. Read on at your peril.
What it's about: Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue is the first book in the Cynster Brides series by Australian author Stephanie Laurens. Heather Cynster, daughter of Martin and Celia, is abducted from a soiree in London. The abduction is witnessed by Viscount Breckenridge, a not-friend of hers. They don’t get along – he thinks she’s too young for him (there’s a 10 year age gap) and keeps his distance, she thinks he considers her a child. Breckenridge follows and tries to rescue her but Heather has discovered that the kidnappers wanted only a “Cynster daughter” not specifically Heather and given that she’s being treated well (they hired a maid for her, for “countenance”) she thinks it is best to stay in their clutches and extract information about the villain behind the scheme so as to protect her cousins and sisters. Breckenridge goes along with it and follows, keeping watch. If that sounds like a flimsy excuse for a plot to you, it would be because it is. Given the amount of time Heather spends with the kidnappers, she actually finds out precious little about them and even when she does, it is in brief conversations and DAYS are going by. She’s not frightened or in any way traumatised – it’s the most pathetic kidnapping in the history of the activity.
What worked for me and what didn't: Torturous. Tedious. Tautologous. In audio, Ms. Laurens habit of describing everything at least three times is so very much more annoying than in print. In print, I skim and I probably only read one word in three, which means I can keep up with the gist of the story but do not want to hit something. I found the same does not apply to audio. I definitely wanted to hit something.
If I had a dollar for every time Breckenridge was described (sometimes within the same paragraph as “the Foremost Rake of the Ton”, I’d be able to buy myself a Kindle. Possibly two. Breckenridge, or, as I like to call him FRT, is, to make matters worse, a very poor excuse for a rake. Depending on what part of the book you are listening to, he has either bedded “countless” ladies, or not as many as everyone thinks. However many ladies he has bedded, in his experience, most ladies don’t take any active part in the process (presumably they just lie there and think of England) and only a few have shown anything like passion. So, when FRT eventually beds the heretofore virginal Heather Cynster, he’s overwhelmed, stunned and amazed by her enthusiastic response – she’s active, takes the initiative, passionate. In one scene when she’s, er, “going downtown”, he reflects that he didn’t let ladies to that to him but she was different – WHAT? See? BAD rake. He should be booted out of the Society of Regency Rakes forthwith. Besides, anyone who knows anything about the Cynsters would know that if he was really that bad, Devil and his “ilk” wouldn’t let FRT within coo-ee of pure Heather.
Then there’s Heather – at the beginning, she’s given up searching in the traditional ballrooms of the ton for her “hero. She’s decided (not unlike her cousin (?) Amanda from On a Wild Night) to search in the racier environs to find the man who will sweep her off her feet. Later, when offered marriage by FRT due to the damage to her reputation, she refuses and states that she had resigned herself to being a spinster and wants to look after homeless children so her reputation or lack of it doesn’t matter. Next thing, she’s contemplating how it turns out that FRT is her perfect hero if only he would love her. Hur?
The villain is the worst villain in the history of villains. We don’t know his identity, but, after hiring people to abduct Heather, he includes a maid for countenance on the journey. Then, when she does escape with FRT, he follows, not to get her back – no!! He follows to make sure that the “bounder” who has her treats her well. There is very little in the book about the motivations of the villain other than that he’s only doing it because his mad-ass mother has made some sort of squirly bargain with him which forces him to “ruin the reputation of a Cynster daughter”. It is clear that he will be the bad guy in the series until he is eventually the hero of the final story in the trilogy.
Anyway, Heather and FRT escape together but due to (some more ridiculous) circumstances, they are forced to continue on foot and this takes a number of days. They head for Richard and Catriona Cynster’s estate and on the way there the “romance” part of the book begins. There is literally NOT SO MUCH AS A KISS before chapter 9. Their very first “romantic encounter” is also the full monty. There follows 3 chapters of sexytimes, each described in torturous purple prose - three times.
Once FRT and Heather arrive at the Vale there ensues further torture for the listener. FRT has vowed never to love (and thereby be vulnerable to another). Problem is, he’s already in love. Okay, so: New vow. He won’t tell her how he feels because that would give her too much power over him. Problem: she’s declared she won’t marry a man who doesn’t hold her in true “affection” which even he knows is code for “love”. So, he decides to show her his feelings by the power of his “mighty wang of lovin’”. Meanwhile, she’s decided she loves him but won’t marry him unless he loves her too and tells her so. She’s having no success in drawing out a declaration and so decides to show him her true feelings with her “magic hoo-ha”. *sexytimes*. Problem: afterwards she thinks he was just pretending in order to get her to agree to the wedding and says no anyway when he proposes yet again. It was enough to make me bang my head against a wall. Repeatedly. Over and over again. Many times. It takes an injury to FRT to sort matters out (I won’t give away what sort; it’s not quite “pecked to death by pigeons” (TM Julia Quinn) but, oh man - over-the-topsville it is).
I decided to listen to this book because, while I do grind my teeth these days at the triptych descriptions and the overuse of the word “evoke” (in all of its many many iterations) , and all the “him being him”s and “her being her”s I have nevertheless really enjoyed some of Ms. Laurens books (Devil’s Bride, On a Wicked Dawn, The Ideal Bride, A Gentlemen’s Honor). But I’m not a big fan of Simon Prebble's narration of her books. He’s a bit too overwrought for my taste (I listened to two of the Black Cobra quartet which he narrated). This one has a new-to-me narrator and I thought it was worth trying. Sadly, Matthew Brenher is the opposite of overwrought. While he does use some expression in his voice, there’s no passion or excitement – the intonation during a scene where they’re sipping tea is the same as during the time they’re traversing “passion’s landscape” (yes, that is a direct quote.) I thought his voice for our hero FRT was quite good, but Richard “Scandal” Cynster has developed an alarming Scottish accent in the 9 years he’s been living there and Catriona, from the sound of her, has apparently taken up chain smoking – and sometimes she slipped into a more Yorkshire accent than a Scots one which was a bit disconcerting. A brief appearance by Michael Anstruther-Wetherby (one of my favourite Laurens heroes) and his wife Caro was even more troubling. Michael sounded prissy and rather like he’d been castrated. In fact at the end of each sentence he uttered, I mentally added “and where ARE my testicles anyway?”. Caro sounded like she was in her 50’s and frumpy . Heather’s voice was okay, but Mr. Brenher does suffer from that common problem with male narrators where the female characters sound like they’re men in drag.
Also, I know that Ms. Laurens can write an extremely long and convoluted sentence, but I wondered whether Mr. Brenher had done any pre-reading before the narration performance. There were these pauses in odd and unexpected places which made the sentences sound like they had just abruptly stopped. It was so prevalent throughout the book, it was very off-putting. Because I was tortured by the silly plot and the overwrought descriptions, I had plenty of time to notice each occasion.
What else? The book came in at more than 15 hours of listening time. Given that most of it was adjectives, it could easily have been trimmed by half and nothing would have been lost of the plot (what there was of it).
I’ve decided I have to break up with Stephanie Laurens on audio. I just can’t bear it anymore. It may be that I will try some more in print where I can skim to my heart’s content and therefore save a layer of enamel on my teeth, but it won’t be soon.