I didn't account for ghosts, though. Cause yeah, a ghost definitely features in the resolution of this book. Naturally. That's the only reason I'm reviewing it here. Because of the ghost.
Even when I try, I can't escape paranormals.
The book in question is The Conquest by Jude Deveraux. What can I say? I love my paranormals, but I just felt the need to branch out and try one of the other romance subgenres. Now that I have, I don't believe historicals are for me...at least not this kind of historical.
"Lovely Zared Peregrine was the pride of her family, a treasure her rough-hewn brothers would strive at any cost to protect from their ancient enemies, the Howards. The Peregrines had suffered loss enough. Thus Zared's brothers trained her in the arts of war, and dressed her in boy's clothing. Beyond the castle walls, none knew that the youngest Peregrine was a girl.... Yet when the magnificent Knight Tearle Howard returned from a lengthy sojourn in France, it took him but one glance to discover that Zared was most definitely female, and beautiful. Now, as the enmity between their families raged on, Tearle would mount a bold campaign to win the ravishing spitfire's heart -- and save her from his brother's dark and deadly obsession!"
This book was a quick read, but even so I found it horribly monotonous. The heroine is a crossdressing, 17 year old girl who is either incredibly immature for her age, or simply, well, simple. She is uneducated (which, considering this is a historical, can be forgiven), but she considers herself logical and brimming with commonsense. So, she tries to think of logical conclusions to justify her hate-driven paranoia of everything, always looking for conspiracy theories that simply aren't there. This gets really old, really fast. Reading her "logic" spelled out on the page is a lot like listening to the barroom logic of really drunk men right before last call; it's completely absurd and you pray the individual will come to their senses before embarrassing themselves.
The heroine, Zared, also idolizes her brothers to a degree that is slightly disturbing. She speaks at length about their physique, honor, fighting skill, intelligence, etc. She compares all other men to her God-like brothers in a way that seems to supersede the normal hero worship that can sometimes take place between a younger and older sibling. Nothing incestuous takes place on the page, but it's disturbing none the less.
As for those God-like brothers, Rogan and Severn, I think it's further proof of the heroine's simplicity that she could idolize them at all. While these are the "good guys", they are incredibly boorish and proud, and these traits are exalted as the masculine ideal. Severn is portrayed as manly and clever because, after a noblewoman he's courting makes a fool of him, he throws her over his knee and spanks her in the middle of a dining hall. This is, of course, completely fine because the woman in question is too clever for her own good. Severn is revered for teaching her a lesson. I understand this is a historical novel and that gender roles were far different then, but it's the way scenes like the one described above are presented that bother me. Not that the event took place, but that the (likely female) reader is supposed to agree that the uppity noblewoman got what she deserved.
Then there is the hero, Tearle. Tearle is the oddest man/woman hybrid I've ever read and, granted, this is a book in which the heroine has spent her entire life disguised as a boy. In addition to being big, brawny, and the most skilled at war games, Tearle is also more refined than even the grandest of ladies. In one scene he's being trampled by a horse to protect his lady love, and in the next he's explaining to her the finer features of rose-scented silk gloves. I'm sorry, there's a disconnect there somewhere.
In addition to being a master of both might and refinement, Tearle is a peacemaker and a scholar, a poet and musician. He's beautiful in a manly way and the smartest person in the book. He's apparently the total package. So why don't I like this hero? Because in addition to all those fine traits, he's extremely manipulative. He proclaims to detest the emotional games women play, yet he plays them more than anyone else. This is even more reprehensible when you realize the person on the receiving end of these manipulations is Zared, a girl far too dim to realize anything that she isn't beaten over the head with half a dozen times. Overall, the "enlightened" Tearle seems more sexist than the more brutish male characters, because he is manipulative and conniving in his bigotry, where the other men are at least straightforward.
For a romance, much of this book is dedicated to the exploration of hate, with love thrown in as an implausible idea on the part of the slightly effeminate hero. As such, the hate between characters is far more believable than the love is. The HEA is, at best, contrived; it results only from deus ex machina, in this case the paranormal element that I mentioned in the beginning of the review. When a completely happy (and implausible) resolution seems out of reach, the ghost of Zared's grandmother shows up and gives her a riddle (which apparently is important to the entire story, but not mentioned until the end), then leads her to a ledger that spells out everything needed for the HEA.
This is an older book (published in 1991), but I am not overly impressed. If all of Deveraux's work is similar to this, I believe I'll be avoiding her novels. If all historicals are like this, I think I'll stick with paranormals.