Friday, January 14, 2011

Flawless by Jana Richards

TITLE: Flawless
AUTHOR: Jana Richards
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 39k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $4.25

The French Resistance is desperate to get their hands on an infamous diamond, the Heartstone, Le Coeur Bleu, to stop the Nazis from trading it for war needs. Their best chance comes with American jewel thief Hunter Smith. They get him into France, where he teams up with Madeleine Bertrand. He’s shocked by Madeleine’s hatred of him, until he discovers she’s the widow of his best friend, the man whose death both of them blame Hunter for. They have no choice but to work together. Defeating the Nazis depends on it…

When it comes to personal favorite tropes, readers can be very forgiving in their eagerness to get more material to devour. One of mine is 40s-era stories, whether it’s WWII or noir or something else entirely. I liked the sound of this, and the excerpt – though short – didn’t turn me off. So I took a chance, and ended up with a lackluster, bland experience.

Hunter Smith is an American jailed in London in 1942 for jewel theft. He gets approached by a member of the SOE and is offered a release in exchange for helping them steal a diamond from the Nazis. It’s known as the Blue Heart, and its sale will help fund the Nazi war machine if the Allies don’t stop it. Hunter already feels guilty about this particular jewel because the person the Germans stole it from was his best friend, who got the money to buy the diamond in the first place because Hunter gave it to him. Hunter accepts and goes to France where he’s supposed to work with Madeleine, a French woman who’s a maid in the Nazi general’s headquarters/chateau. She hates him on sight, and we soon learn that she’s actually the widow of Hunter’s best friend. Somehow, however, they have to put aside their animosity to get the diamond, a task that’s even harder when Hunter witnesses Madeleine about to be raped by the General and jumps in to pose as her husband to save her.

It all sounds like there would be a lot of wonderful emotional drama in this, doesn’t it? And I suppose if you were to make a list of the various twists and turns of the plot – even as melodramatic and farfetched as some of them are – there’d be proof of that drama. But it’s not there in the actual execution. The prose lacks any kind of depth or charm, and feels more than once like a wasted opportunity for something truly rich and wonderful. It failed to engage me on any level with the action of the plot, and I spent most of the story bored out of my mind. Considering what happens within the story, that doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but it was.

The simple voice gets in the way of the characters ever seeming like anything but two-dimensional cut-outs getting physically moved around the plot’s stage. There’s nothing objectionable about Hunter – though I do wonder how someone who performs one act of master thievery at a young age and then mostly gives it up for years could ever be considered the best choice for such a delicate operation – but I never felt like I knew him at all. Madeleine suffers more. At the start, she’s anger personified, lashing out at Hunter time and time again. Her attraction comes out of nowhere, and the switch in her feelings for him even more sudden. There is absolutely no chemistry between the two for me, either. They kissed, and all I kept thinking was, “Get on with it already.”

I feel like much of my problem with this long novella stems from my dislike of the authorial voice. POV never felt very deep to me, and many times, it felt like I was just skimming along the surface of what was going on. Others might not have the same issues I did, especially since there was enough going on in the plot action-wise. But I fear this author’s style just isn’t for me.


7/10 – Though technically clean, it failed to engage me


6/10 – Nothing objectionable about him, but little that’s memorable, either


5/10 – Emotions felt too faked for me to believe in her

Entertainment value

4/10 – Though I wanted to love this, the bland prose and characters bored me

World building

6/10 – Some of the backdrop details are nice, but they don’t really add enough texture to the novel to make it memorable



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