"Once a Mistress" by Rebecca Hagan Lee

Rebecca Hagan Lee is one of my favorite romance writers. Her “Free Fellows League” books are my favorite Regency era books (written outside the Regency), so I had high expectations for “Once a Mistress”. Perhaps a little too high, unfortunately.

One of the best things about having low standards for romance novels is that the books I read often exceed my expectations. I frequently choose books because the description on the back is completely ridiculous, cliche and because I’m dying to find out just how these two unlikely lovers will overcome their differences and realize that what they have is not just wild hot shagging but, in fact, true love that will Stand The Test of Time.

Enough about me – this is about “Once a Mistress”, which, despite the completely misleading title, is not about a mistress at all. That part doesn’t really bug me, though. What really bothers me is that the characters in this book fell victim to the same fate of many sub-par yet ravenously-published paperback romance novels: Character Blah*. In the beginning, our heroine is vivacious, intelligent and has interesting hobbies. At the same time our hero is troubled, angry and rather heartless. These two manage to hang on to their personalities until about 20% of the way through the book, at which point they suddenly have a complete reversal of feelings and ignore everything they’ve said to each other in the previous 80 pages. This happens a lot in romance novels, but I’m usually willing to go along with it because, hey, they just realized that they’re in love and that changes things, right? But in “Once a Mistress” our lead characters have a long history with each other, full of baggage and angst that caused a 5-year separation between them during which our leading lady moves in with our hero’s dad and has a baby.

Yeah, that’s right. His DAD.

It’s pretty complicated, and honestly I don’t know that it made the story any richer, just a bit more confusing. But my point is, this is major baggage, and people don’t just get over stuff like this because it’s chapter 9. Also, immediately following this sudden, simultaneous change of heart is about 5 chapters of everybody settling perfectly into unmarried domestic bliss. This is, of course, just to kill time until the not-so-sudden highly-anticipated plot twist (involving a character that was mentioned only once at the beginning of chapter 1) that will either make or break their newfound perfect, yet unconventional, partnership. I won’t tell you how it ends because I’m sure it’s a total mystery**.

Anyway, I did enjoy this enough to finish the book, though I did get stuck on that domestic bliss part for a very long time. I still think Rebecca Hagan Lee is a very talented author, and it really was a good book – it just fell victim to my High Expectations.

* My orchestra teacher (Mr Long) had this term he used called “mezzo blah”, which was what we played when we ignored all the dynamics on the page.

**They get married.


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