Saturday, December 12, 2009

Review: The Mistress by Susan Wiggs

Set the night of the great fire in Chicago, this is the story of Kathleen and Dylan, two people who come together on this terrifying night, under false pretenses, and grow to love each other. Sounds far-fetched, doesn't it? It really is. Kathleen O'Leary (yes, the daughter of the Old Mother Leary who is ultimately blamed for the raging inferno that leveled the city) is a lady's maid. Her mistress is not feeling well and so two of her mistress' friends dress her in finery in a social experiment. One wagers that she can be Pygmalion-like and pass for a lady of the upper crust so long as she looks and acts the part. The other thinks that blood will out. Kathleen, having longed all her life for the life of the monied set, agrees to the charade. While dressed as an heiress, she meets Dylan Francis Kennedy, heir to a Boston fortune and the most sought after man in Chicago at the moment. Only he's not who he appears either. He's a confidence man and while truly captivated by Kathleen's beauty, he sees in her a chance to marry (or seduce if needs be) money. And just when the two main characters are sparking off of each other, the sparks of the actual fire start to fly, scattering the gathering and seperating Kathleen and Dylan.

Through unbelievable coincidence, the two of them come together again in the heart of the fire, gathering people to them and enduring terrible peril together. And this is when, sure that they will not survive the night, they get married in front of a priest, the mayor of the city of Chicago, a judge, the dying clerk of court, and a freed convict. Not exactly the wedding Kathleen had long dreamed about. Of course, the two of them survive the fire and spend several days consummating their marriage. But before long, Kathleen must tell her wealthy husband that she is not, in fact, an heiress. And then he, shocked beyond belief that she's managed, even unintentionally, to trick the trickster, admits he is not who he claims to be either and storms off. Is their love strong enough to hold in the face of all these lies?

While I understand that people do things spur of the moment during times of danger which they might later come to regret, I am unconvinced about the depth of the purported love these two felt for each other. After all, they knew each other for a grand total of about 72 hours before the truth came out and destroyed their union. What in that 72 hours would be strong enough to pull them back together later? I would likely always have had a difficult time believing in such a plot but Wiggs doesn't really sell the idea of this instantaneous and forever love. In addition, Dylan is drawn as completely unappealing. He is completely unrepentant for his lying, cheating, and stealing through the majority of his life. Even presented with Kathleen's strong sense of right and wrong, he is incapable of understanding morality. And while I get that he thought he'd been abandoned as a child and was therefore unloved, that doesn't excuse his character entirely. As for Kathleen, I found her wishy-washy and rather dull. Combined, the characters didn't help me want to believe in their story. The setting was a new one for me and unique in that but otherwise, this was not one of my favorite romances.


  1. Now, now, you know if a heroine has the hots for a guy, that's proof that TRUE LOVE is in the air. Who can fight TRUE LOVE.

    So the mistress of the title is the minor character of the sick boss?

  2. I wonder if anyone but Shakespeare could pull off writing about a compelling love affair that blossomed in less than 72 hours. :-)

  3. Okay...I am so loving your reviews. You have just written about something that I just do not like about romance novels. How a couple can claim undying love after only knowing each other for 72hours drives me wacky!! Come now...lets call it like it is...LUST. But no, the authors insist it is LOVE. lol...I know I am poking fun but still...
    I think if authors would give the characters some depth and time the romance novels, on a whole, could be so much better.

  4. Interesting. A great review, and very helpful, though, thanks! I'm a bit disappointed that it went the love, love, love route instead of we just started and we're going to walk away and then maybe come back later in life or meet others or...

    Ah, well.


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