Seducing the Heiress
by Olivia Drake
(St. Martin’s, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-312-94345-5
Occasionally romance readers will discuss which is more important, liking the hero or liking the heroine.  There are those who insist that the key to an enjoyable romance is a strong and attractive hero who may have faults, but is still someone whom the reader can admire.  Others will insist on the necessity of a strong and attractive heroine with whom the reader can identify.  Unfortunately, in Seducing the Heiress, neither the hero nor the heroine is particularly compelling of attractive.  This does not bode well.

The heiress in question is Miss Portia Crompton, the eldest daughter of a rich India merchant.  Her beauty and her father’s fortune have gained her access to the ton and her ambitious mother expects her to marry well. But Portia is not interested in the beaux who sue for her favors.  She has other plans.  She wants to marry her childhood friend whom she dearly loves.  That said friend is an Indian- in fact the son and heir of a maharaja – is a serious complication.  Indeed, her parents discovery of the relationship led to the family’s rapid departure from India.  But Portia is sure that somehow, she and Arun will find a way to be together.

The “hero” is Colin Byrd, Viscount Ratcliffe, a man with a most unsavory reputation.  Not only is he impoverished, but he was accused of murdering his own father.  While the courts agreed that the previous viscount’s death was an unfortunate accident, society shuns Colin.  His desperate straits give him no choice but the marry an heiress and he has decided that Portia will do very well.  He crashes a society affair and arranges to meet the heiress.  And, of course, Portia is fascinated by his good looks and his air of mystery.

Colin is determined to win the heiress by fair means or foul.  Of course, it is necessary, given the conventions of romantic fiction, for him to discover Portia’s good qualities and for him to want her for herself as well as her dowry.  For her part, Portia spurns his advances, despite that tingle he creates in her.  Why, even when he intrudes into her bedchamber, she rejects his suit.  And when he steals her miniature of Arum, she is furious and determined to recover it, even if it means breaking into his house (which, of course, gives her another opportunity to feel those tingles.)

Colin is a stock character: the rogue who is not really as much of a rogue as he is painted.  But neither the reader nor Portia really discovers this fact until quite late in the story.  Thus, her attraction to him and her falling for his seductive wiles make her seem, well, shallow, given her supposed devotion to her Arun.  (The author does have Portia conclude that, since she has not heard from Arun, he must have died in a cholera epidemic.  Still, she gets over this pretty quickly.)

As for Colin, well, he’s simply not very heroic.  In short, the romance didn’t work, at least for me.  Physical attraction and tingles are simply not enough.

I had thought Olivia Drake was a new author and was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope for better things ahead.  But I discovered that she is in fact an experienced romance author who has undergone one of those frequent name changes.  So I find myself less tolerant of the weaknesses in the characterization and plot in Seducing the Heiress than I might otherwise have been.  Sadly, this is not a very good book. 

--Jean Mason

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