Book Review

Book Rant: The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter

Unleashed Fury goes in the talk bubble above the angry woman on the phoneI received the following Book Rant from Heather, who read a book that made her so incredibly angry, she had to share. This happens more than you think – and they find their way to my inbox, which means I get to share them with you! And now, Heather’s Book Rant.


I recently read The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter. I’ve read quite a few of Madeline Hunter’s books, and generally at least mildly enjoy them. This book was WRETCHED. Strangely, Amazon has mostly positive reviews for this book. It makes no sense.

What about this book made me feel stabby?  It was packed with improbable yet stereotypical and unlikeable characters.  For each character, no matter how minor, a mysterious past/back story/ motivation was hinted at, leading you to read on in hopes of SOMETHING happening.  Nothing happens.  None of these back stories/mysteries bear any fruit.  It was infuriating and inexplicable.

The cast of characters (caricatures, maybe?):

Our Heroine, Miss Emma Fairbourne – Her father is recently deceased under “mysterious” circumstances,” and she is determined to continue running his prestigious auction house.  Of course, as a woman, no one will believe her capable, so she must concoct all sorts of ruses to run the auction house from behind the scenes.  This seemed promising.  I was hoping she would be some sort of art/gem/whatnot aficionado with a passion for auctioning or some such, but she is actually only moderately talented and doesn’t seem at all passionate about the business.

Madeline Hunter - The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne So what motivates her to pursue this seemingly hopeless scheme?  The auction house is her brother’s legacy and must be preserved!  This brother is presumed dead, and didn’t really have a passionate interest in the business either, but if she sells the business it will be GIVING UP ON HIM.  Which is basically the same as murdering him, of course.  So, she blunders on.  The hero suggests selling the auction house and putting the income in trust for the brother, but this is similarly GIVING UP.  The reader doesn’t know why, and doesn’t particularly give a fuck for Emma, or her brother, or the auction house.

It’s hard to care much for Emma because she has no real personality.  Her “defining” characteristic is that she SPEAKS HER MIND and is UNFLINCHINGLY HONEST – even though she lies routinely throughout the book.  And there is “something about her.”  We know this because the hero and his cronies all remark upon it…she wasn’t particularly beautiful, but there was “SOMETHING ABOUT HER.”  This was repeated enough so that you knew it was IMPORTANT.

Our Hero, Darius, the Earl of Southwaite – He is, of course, large, dark, and stormy.  He somehow acquired half of the auction house from Emma’s father and now wants to sell it.  Of course, they battle about this ad naseum.  And she always wins.  Usually through some sort of improbable lie paired with ridiculously transparent reverse psychology, and he always walks away astounded by how she pulled one over on him.  But we are supposed to believe he’s clever, and also in charge of the security of England’s coasts against the French, even though he can’t argue his way out of a cardboard box.  And if he ever makes a legitimate point, her eyes glisten with tears and he folds. Inexplicably, after first meeting Emma, Southwaite starts having erotic fantasies and dreams about her.  Neither he nor the reader has any idea why.  It must be that “something about her.”

The Heroine’s Sidekick – Lady Cassandra – She is a “fallen woman” and apparently befriended Emma because no one else would associate with her and Emma’s auction house provides a convenient way to sell her jewels to repair her impoverishment (also a result of her “fallen” status).  She spends all her “friendship” energy attempting to get Emma laid, and making money from the auction house through her jewels and shady connections with French émigrés with art collections.

Even though her behavior is suspicious throughout, and I was certain she was being set up as the “hidden villain,” nothing comes of it.  All the foreshadowing was for naught.  Her main act in the book is to help Emma concoct an advertisement for an employee that, of course, sounds like an ad for a lover, leading to the necessary “huge misunderstanding” where the hero is certain Emma is a woman of ill repute but of course offers to service her.  When he offers his “services,” Cassandra encourages Emma to become his mistress, because fallen-woman misery loves company!

In spite of Cassandra’s consistently horrible advice and general shiftiness, Emma continues to believe Cassandra is a true friend with wonderful intentions.  Southwaite is, of course, suspicious of Cassandra and has forbidden his sister to associate with her.  Apparently, since he doesn’t want to “service” her, she’s inappropriate company.

This leads to another “plot twist.”  After Southwaite forbade his sister from associating with Cassandra, the sister withdrew from society and wouldn’t talk to anyone, especially her brother.  Southwaite constantly bemoans that she won’t confide in him, while he continues to autocratically dictate her life and then wonders why she doesn’t trust him with her secrets.  He spends an inordinate amount of time speculating about what his sister is “hiding.”  This seemed promising! I was hoping for a shocking reveal where Cassandra and the sister are lesbian lovers and Southwaite has thwarted their love, or at least that Cassandra  was some sort of evil mastermind ruining EVERYONE’S lives and selling Southie’s sister to Frenchmen to be molested, or ANYTHING INTERESTING.  But no, she’s just a shallow, sly person and Southie’s sister is just shallow and pouty.

The Hero’s Cronies – Southwaite’s two friends are similarly clichéd and shallow.  Ambury is “devil-may-care” and Kendale is inexplicably (EVERYTHING is inexplicable!) angry and suspicious.  His anger/suspicion is explained by his recent tour in the army.  No further explanation is given.  But Kendale spends all his time enraged and suspicious and waxing melodramatically about his “duty.” Each incident is explained away by stating “he had been in the army, after all.” It is hinted that something important happened whilst in the army, but is this fleshed out later in the book? Of course not!

So, the cast of half-developed clichés is rounded out by:

A Mysterious French Émigré – we know she is mysterious and French because she can make a paper bag look supremely elegant.

The Auctioneer-Savant – he’s shy, knows nothing about art, but has a “magical” power to drive bids to never-before-seen heights.

The Schmooze-Savant – Mr. Nightingale, who succeeds at whatever he does for the auction house (also not fully explained) by being ridiculously good looking, “slithering” about, and possibly whoring himself out to the men and women who appreciate his ridiculously good-looking slithering.  Regardless of his amorphous man-whore role at the auction house, he is ESSENTIAL to its success.

The Mysterious Duke – A former friend of Southie and cronies, he is now shunned for killing another mutual friend in a duel.  It is hinted ad naseum that there is more to this story.  Guess what!  We never find out this significance of this either!

In spite of the execrable characters, the premise seemed promising…. Smuggling! Kidnapping and blackmail! Treason! In reality, this book was about pointless, fabricated obstacles that could have been easily solved with a single conversation between the two main characters. Miss Fairbourne isn’t even very good at running the auction house, and doesn’t seem to be any sort of an expert in art. She is merely better than the other completely incompetent employeess. In spite of their incompetence, it is ESSENTIAL that she retain these two art nincompoops, because one is the aforementioned “auctioning savant”, and the other the “schmoozing savant/man-whore.”

Even the kidnapped brother, who provides the foundation for all the misunderstanding and angst in the book, turns out to be worthless and annoying. Also, his kidnapping was really just a long vacation in France with his new wife.

I had borrowed the book from my trashy-books partner in crime, who had just finished it. I kept loudly complaining to her about how much I hated everyone in the book. But, I was sure that something really shocking would happen to redeem the book, and the plot would be so convoluted and WTFish that it would be amusing at least. My friend was amused by my speculation, but did she warn me that I would be horribly disappointed? No.  Apparently awful-book misery also loves company. Nothing exciting happened. EVERYTHING WAS FOR NO APPARENT REASON AT ALL.

At the end, everything is boringly wrapped up, and seems very rushed. Which makes no sense, because the rest of the book meandered aimlessly in no hurry at all, so what was the sudden rush? Was Ms. Hunter planning on a more intricate ending, but ended up so irritated with all her characters that she just gave up? If so, I don’t blame her. If this book didn’t belong to my sneaky “friend,” I would burn it.  I can’t do justice to how awful it was and how it sucked up hours of my time that I will NEVER get back.

End rant.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Angelrae79 says:

    Heather,
    Normally, I take books I don’t like to the used book store for credit, but this one is atrocious enough, that you have my permission to burn the damn book. Please.
    With love, hugs, and kisses,
    Your “Sneaky Friend”
    P.S. Did we ever figure out if Miss Fairbourne ever actually surrendered?

  2. 2
    Tam B. says:

    I suggest that you at least have a ceremonial burning and perhaps cook marshmallows over the fire of this book.  That way you get to enjoy something about it. 

  3. 3
    Ren says:

    I read this whole rant thinking, “What’s the problem? This sounds entirely consistent with the premise as laid out in the heroine’s introduction”—which, upon revisiting, I realized I had misread as “she is determined to continue RUINING his prestigious auction house.”

  4. 4
    HappyPiranha says:

    This book was a DNF for me.  In fact, it was a BGS (barely got started).  I think I gave up on it within the first couple of chapters because everyone was so annoying that I couldn’t get into the book.  It was a library book, so *sigh* no burning of this one for me.

  5. 5
    HJ says:

    Is it possible that this is intended to be the first book of a series and that all these hints will be resolved and unnecessary characters will suddenly come into their own over several sequels?  Because that’s what it sounds like to me… A very long set-up.

    But thanks for the warning!

  6. 6
    Awaskyc says:

    I believe Lady Cassandra is the star of the next book. I suspect that’s the reason why so many characters had mysterious backgrounds that are not explained—she’s going to use them in future books in the series.

  7. 7
    Jennifer says:

    Re: “Strangely, Amazon has mostly positive reviews for this book. It makes no sense.”

    When books are bad and yet they have glowing reviews it makes it more painful. It just does.

    I end up studying the “positive” reviews trying to figure out what I missed…and still don’t get it.

  8. 8
    AnimeJune says:

    I DNF’d the only Madeleine Hunter book I read – RAVISHING IN RED – for similar reasons – the heroine was a moron and the sequel-baiting was just too obvious. The heroine goes to a hotel BY HERSELF informing NO ONE where she’s going, to meet a NEFARIOUS ANONYMOUS INDIVIDUAL SHE’S NEVER SEEN who might know how her father died, but it’s okay because she brought a GUN SHE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO USE.

    Argh!

    And I really, REALLY dislike blatant sequel baiting. I mean, it’s okay to have a few hints here and there, but starting plotlines and dropping them? It’s even worse in other genres where the stories are more interconnected. If I have to read another YA dystopia that refuses to answer any questions or solve any conflicts because the author wants to manipulate readers into buying sequels by “saving” the actual plot for later books, my wall’s going to have another dent in it and I’m going to lose my security deposit completely.

  9. 9
    Beccah W. says:

    I’m totally fine with stories that make it clear there will be a sequel, but that does not mean said book can just ramble on without direction.

    I’m primarily thinking of the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series by Sabrina Jeffries. Sure, you have to read the whole series to find out the real story of how their parents were murdered, but each book advances that plot by adding new information the characters have discovered. As each couple falls in love, they also seek out new leads to find the murderer. Until finally you read the last book and everything is resolved.

    Is it really too much to ask that an author not think too far head of themselves, and actually put some plot into EVERY story in a series?

  10. 10
    HJ says:

    That is a good example of how it should be done – an overarching big plot but lots of smaller plots being resolved in each book.

  11. 11
    Lenorej says:

    Gave up after the first few chapters….I simply couldn’t see burning any further core on such a lame heroine.

  12. 12
    Hjjoyce77 says:

    Well, she was just as irritating as every character in this book.  Sequel building I can understand, but if you despise every character in the book, why would you read the sequel? I think even Madeline was fed up with them all since she rushed to a conclusion after meandering for most of the book.  Even she got tired of her horrible spawn.

  13. 13
    laj says:

    I feel your pain I couldn’t get past chapter two. I liked Hunter ‘s last series so I was disappointed and annoyed at the same time.  It’s been like this for me lately, all the new books by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past are flops.

    My RANT would be Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series,  HATED IT with a passion.

    Return or give books to your local library. My neighbor drops unliked romances off at the Launder-Mat. Book burning is not something readers should advocate.  IMHO.

  14. 14
    LG says:

    And if you think (or know) that your local public library won’t want them, you might try your local academic library. The academic library I work at can’t justify spending much on genre fiction, so almost all of the genre fiction in our collection is stuff that’s been donated. Most of our donors are mystery and thriller readers, so I’ve been gradually beefing up our romance collection, which is much much smaller, with donations of my own.

  15. 15
    Heather says:

    While I don’t condone book burning in general, this atrocity deserves a good torturing. And giving it away might be akin to donating diseased blood….just sayin’

  16. 16
    Beccah W. says:

    The only book I ever burned was Hamlet. And honestly, I loved that book, but an entire college semester spent studying it? I needed something symbolic to end that internal suffering. To burn, or not to burn?

  17. 17
    Jeanne Miro says:

    Sarah -

    Obviously your problem was that your “friend” didn’t let you know this wasn’t a romance book but instead a take-off of a “Three Stooges” plot!

    Now if you go back and view all the “happenings” and characters in that light I’m sure you’ll find it quite amusing!

  18. 18
    Jenny Dolton says:

    As a former Shakespeare teacher, this makes my heart hurt. =(

  19. 19
    Violet Bick says:

    You know what I really miss? Good stand-alone romances. I am so over sequels. I keep waiting for the publishing pendulum to swing away from sequels and trilogies and Book Number Umpteenth of a series. I am tired of the endless setups, unresolved plot points, and sequel-bait characters and questions. I just want a good book. A well-written book. A world that is complete and entire unto itself. Is that too much to ask?

  20. 20
    Psychbucket says:

    *slinking in from the shadows*  I’ll tell a not-so-secret secret.  There are freelancing websites where people can be paid to write glowing reviews on books.  I’m not saying this is the case with this particular book—I’ve not read the book, nor looked at its Amazon reviews—but it does happen.  *slinking back into the shadows* 

  21. 21
    Psychbucket says:

    When I am traveling and have finished a book I did not like or have a DNF book, I will leave it in airport bathrooms.  That is my personal mark of disdain which I find very satisfying.  Otherwise, clunkers are donated to the local Salvation Army.

  22. 22
    Psychbucket says:

    From the review, it almost sounds like the whole book was nothing but sequel-building mechanisms stacked together.  That would sure annoy me.

  23. 23
    ridiculousspider says:

    “…it will be GIVING UP ON HIM.  Which is basically the same as murdering him, of course.”

    Of course, it is just the same.  Minus the actual, you know, act of taking his life with poison, a bullet, a noose, your bare hands.  That actual interesting part (at least in terms of fiction writing).

     

  24. 24
    Heather says:

    Yes, but it was ineffective sequel building, since NOT ONE character was likeable so I didn’t give a single fuck for any of their stories.

  25. 25
    sao says:

    I’ve noticed that books that weren’t written as series are now frequently listed as series. My library lists Heyer’s Devil’s Cub as book 2 of the {I forgot the name} series. I tend to avoid series.  The sequel baits are like having a romantic dinner for two that keeps getting interrupted by friends of your partner dropping by to say ‘Hi!’ I don’t even like it when I’ve read and loved the previous book.

  26. 26
    Jennifer in GA says:

    Oh yes! I think that was part of the reason I enjoyed Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” so much. It was one and and done. No cliff hangers! No waiting for a sequel! Everything resolved! YAY!!

  27. 27
    infinitieh says:

    Keep that gorgeous Ewa da Cruz cover and burn the rest.

    Actually, I didn’t think it was that bad overall (idiotic young people) although the only characters I want to read about is Kendale and Marielle; I’ll skip the stories of the rest of them.

  28. 28

    I have to say Madeline Hunter is an avoid for me. I find her plots ridiculous and her characters idiotic and one dimensional. My husband often buys me a romance novel when he goes grocery shopping, but he can’t ever remember what authors I like so he just picks whatever sounds interesting. This has lead to him bringing me several Madeline Hunters and I don’t think I’ve finished a single one.

  29. 29
    Ducky says:

    I find nothing about book burning funny at all – not even when it comes to potentially crappy books. I liked a few of Hunter’s books and disliked some. She’s hardly the only romance author who does excessive sequel bating and from what I recall she lately writes series, so of course there is going to be sequel bating.

  30. 30
    Violet Bick says:

    Thanks for the recommendation! It sounds intriguing. And like nothing I’ve ever heard of. Plus, my local library has a copy, so even better!

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