The Disgraced Marchioness

The Outrageous Debutante
by Anne O’Brien
(Harl. Historical, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29381-X
Second in a series about the Faringdon family,The Outrageous Debutante started out with a great premise. The unconventional daughter of a British diplomat returns – reluctantly – to London with her parents in order to seek a husband. Miss Theodora Wooten-Devereux would far rather travel with her parents to Russia, her father’s next post, but they are insistent that she should be seeking a marriage, since she’s now twenty-one. Meanwhile, Lord Nicholas Faringdon is persuaded by his Aunt Beatrice that it’s time he found himself a wife. Inevitably, these two meet and are instantly intrigued by one another. And then… and then…

”Nooooooo,” wails the longtime romance reader. “Not this tired excuse for a conflict again!” Yes, it’s the Big Secret That She Won’t Tell Him Even Though They Are Falling In Love, Because Then He Would Hate Her, So She’ll Just Have to Drive Him Away By Pretending She Doesn’t Care. Oh, please, just shoot me now. Better yet, shoot this book.

Thea’s parents tell her that she is really the true daughter of her mother’s late sister, Mary Baxendale. Thea has a brother, Edward, and a sister, Sarah, whom she has never met. Thea was removed from her uncaring mother when she was an infant. Ordinarily this would be a non-issue, but Edward Baxendale is the man who caused the Faringdon family much grief and scandal in the past (see the first book), and they aren’t likely to welcome Thea into the family if they know she’s really a Baxendale. If Nicholas and Thea continue to see one another, someone will surely remember Mary Baxendale and the truth will come out.

Any thinking person over the age of, say, twelve would immediately come to the reasonable conclusion that a) Thea has never even met the brother and therefore can’t be held responsible for his actions, and b) two people in love ought to have a little faith in each other, or at least be given the opportunity to have a little faith. But no. Instead, Thea makes the tearful decision that she can’t tell Nicholas the truth about her parentage because he’d surely hate her, so she’ll act like an Outrageous Debutante and pretend she was never interested in him. (Um, won’t this make him hate her anyway?) Which she does.

Except Thea can’t stay away from Nicholas, and when she has the chance to see what his country estate look like, she jumps at it. It’s safe, she reasons, because he rarely sets foot on the place. Of course, Nicholas comes home at the exact moment that Thea is mounting her horse to leave. Eventually, the truth comes out, though not because Thea actually tells Nicholas; he has to find out from a third party. Predictable events follow with hurt feelings, refusals to listen, various huffy stompings-off, etc.

In fact, it takes a secondary character from the previous Faringdon book to sail (literally) to the rescue and get everyone to see reason. How annoying. I believe it was the author’s attempt to set up the third book in this series, but it certainly didn’t help the story. Any initial sympathy I had for Thea or Nicholas evaporated with their respective duplicity and thickheadedness. In addition, their relationship becomes physical on at least two occasions before Nicholas finds out The Truth, but the idea that he has compromised a young woman of good breeding and really should marry her after all never seems to cross him mind. He is genuinely hurt at Thea’s apparent disregard for their feelings, and the author does a good job with this. Once he and Thea declare their love, however, he’s much too willing to throw it all away at the first adversity. As for Thea, saying “other than the fact that she’s a deceitful liar, she’s pretty entertaining” doesn’t seem like high praise. And I had such high hopes for her, too.

The author includes the major characters from The Disgraced Marchioness, the previous book, and at times it’s confusing. Plot points from the previous story are alluded to but not explained well here. There is a side plot about tenant unrest and riots, which was rather interesting, but it’s not enough to carry the story. If you don’t mind plots that hinge on characters spending several hundred pages refusing to tell the truth, then you may enjoy The Outrageous Debutante. I was too outraged by the tired plotting to be able to recommend it.

--Cathy Sova

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