As I was reading The Heartbreaker, I felt that this was a solid three-heart book –nothing particularly special or memorable about it but nothing really awful either. Three weeks later I can second the nothing particularly memorable part – I’d pretty much forgotten the details of the plot in that short length of time.
The story line of The Heartbreaker will be familiar to many romance readers. Unwed nobleman can’t handle children, and the young lovely next door – usually poor but with a heart of gold – steps in to save the day. (Diane Farr’s recent historical romance, Under the Wishing Star, plows the same ground.) In the right hands and with an original treatment, stock plots and stock characters can come together for a great book, but The Heartbreaker never rises above its stereotypical origins.
James Lindford, Viscount Farley, returns from his sojourns in the Orient to become a desirable match in society. He soon enters a betrothal with Lady Catherine Basingstoke, the daughter of the Earl of Basingstoke. James, however, does the unthinkable – he intends to raise his two natural daughters, a young girl and an infant with dark skin, himself. The betrothal is broken. James removes his household to his country house.
The girls create complete chaos. Clarissa (who demands to be called Izzy) has driven away several governesses; Leya, the baby, cries constantly. While wandering around the countryside, Izzy discovers Phoebe Churchill who lives in a cottage with her niece Helen. Phoebe is shocked at the girl’s street language and manners but perseveres and manages to establish a tentative connection with Izzy. Lord Farley is struck by Phoebe’s progress with Izzy, and Phoebe’s suggestion that he feed Leya goat’s milk seems to solve her troubles, too. He offers her a position as governess.
It’s important to Phoebe that she retain her reputation so she cannot be governess but agrees that Izzy may come to her cottage for lessons. Soon Izzy isn’t the only one who is learning. But can two people from such different social backgrounds have a future together? Is James still in love with Lady Catherine?
An exact time period is never specified in this story. It could take place anytime from the Regency-era into the Victorian-era. Regardless, there’s an anachronistic feeling about the plot and the characters. I like my historical novels to reflect the era in which they’re set. These characters have too many 21st century attitudes to feel solidly grounded in the past.
Although it deals with some heavy issues – abandoned children, children forced into criminal activity, the stigma of illegitimacy – The Heartbreaker does not have a dark tone. The treatment is generally light and entertaining.
Frankly, I’m getting tired of too-perfect heroines who are able to tame intractable children with one hand tied behind their backs. The plot usually follows the same course – numerous governesses run off then the heroine saves the day. Becoming a governess wasn’t something a woman did because she had a solid financial situation. Moreover, leaving a post in a tizzy because she can’t abide the bratty kids isn’t going to get her a glowing recommendation that will help secure her next position. I’m starting to become deeply concerned about what’s going to become of all these governesses on the run.
The story seems to leave one question unanswered. Who’s the heartbreaker? Since no one’s heart gets broken, I’m open for suggestions.