Category romance is the literary equivalent of tract housing. The units line up, one after the other, in perfectly matched symmetry, completely known and quantifiable. And, certainly, there is no reason to fault category for succeeding in doing exactly what it sets out to do: offering the reader the comfort of sameness and the certainty that what is expected will be delivered upon. But, all too often the trade off that comes with this familiarity is a lack of originality. It would seem the plots points of category romances have the same limitations as three bedroom two bath ranch homes in that there are only so many ways the principle elements come together and remain true to the original intention. In both cases what’s so easily jettisoned to form is creativity.
Revenge of the Second Son doesn’t present itself with unique or arresting architecture. It promises to be a story of revenge sought between business rival families, a seduction begun on a bet, and the coming together of opposites. On all those points it delivers. Julia Holcomb’s family business (something to do with oil, either the retrieval or refinement of it) is in debt and vulnerable. Nick Ransome wants to acquire the Holcombs’ holdings to right long ago wrongs, or to grow his own already large company (again, something to do with oil) or just because he has the opportunity to win. A business associate of Nick’s bets him he can’t seduce Julia. Seeing another avenue for revenge Nick agrees to the bet and Julia and Nick spend the rest of the story not butting heads so much as running into walls of their own making.
Those are all likely – even welcome – constructs of romance. The trouble here is the lack of freshness to the plot points laid out. It’s all been done before. And not done once, done multiple times. So the reader knows, for example, that when Nick makes the bet, Julia will find out in heart crushing fashion and their hard-won emotional intimacy will be put at risk. Or, that when Julia agrees to a get-to-know-you weekend-long-boat-ride/business trip with Nick, that Nick will have arranged to be completely alone with Julia and that business won’t be what gets done. An abrupt halt in the action, or unexpected corner in one of the characters’ souls would have been a welcome diversion to this story that is essentially a long straight hallway the reader can see the end of at all times.
Both the narrative and the dialog are conveyed in lather, rinse, repeat fashion with relentless repetition of less than refined character traits (Nick wants only to win; Julia wants a husband and family). Not only does the repetition wear the reader down, the strokes Orwig paints are of the broadest variety that ignores the sort of foibles and intricacies of character that lend reality and depth to fiction. It is, in fact, difficult to look at either this plot or these characters and identify where the tethers to reality occur. Julia and Nick float in a world that is not quite believable wherein business rivals dine together in steak houses to have politely restrained discussions that have nothing to do with business; and the predatory boundary-ignoring actions of a man on the make are regarded as flirting. Both Julia and Nick are overly damaged by childhood and past events that others manage to live through without being crippled by. Nick doesn’t want to marry because his parents’ marriage was bad (once and for all, save readers of romance from this contrived conflict). Julia is afraid of dark water because she once fell into mud. Nick is driven to win because his father (a man not worth worrying over) favored Nick’s brothers. Julia is driven to protect her grandfather from business dealings despite his having been part of the down and dirty business world for decades. Julia and Nick are both collections of characters traits that are acceptable for romance characters to be and their shortcoming are never their fault.
To further add to the stockness of this hero and heroine, Julia is a twenty-eight year old virgin who takes to sex like a prodigy and Nick, ever the refuse-to-be-tied-down-playboy, begins to call Julia “his woman” as soon as they’ve had sex (or perhaps he doesn’t wait for the le petit morte to become possessive).
Revenge of the Second Son takes the predicted course and suffers for it. Its failure can be equally attributed to the confines of format and lack of craft.
Category romance fills a need in the romance marketplace. Currently, it’s one of the consistent few providers of straight contemporary romance that is free of paranormal or other genre-within-the-genre elements. Readers can count of category to deliver a known product. That said, there’s simply no reason why category should deliver a product devoid of any original or believable elements.
You can purchase this book here or here.