Author: EL James
Publisher: Arrow Books
Before I start the review proper, I have to admit that I haven’t read any of the Fifty Shades books that EL James is so famous for.
Neither have I read any of the Twilight fan fiction that first started her writing.
It may have been a worldwide phenomenon at one point, but I’ve never really been into romance novels, much less erotica.
I did wonder if there would be any S&M (sadism and masochism) in this book – that being one of the things her Fifty Shades series is best known for – however, The Mister sticks strictly to romance.
In fact, James has done a rather good job of basically modernising the classic Regency romance plot.
Let’s start with our male hero, Maxim Trevelyan, whose name practically screams romance novel hero.
Is he handsome, muscular and basically has a god-like body? According to our female hero Alessia Demachi’s first impression, “Yes. He’s handsome. All of him. His hair, his hands, his legs, his backside…. Really handsome. And he had looked directly at her with such clear green eyes”.
You might be wondering about “his backside” part – well, that’s because Alessia first encounters Maxim sleeping on his bed naked when she enters his apartment to clean it.
And that relates to the next question we have to answer about our hero: is he rich?
That would be a yes: not only was he raised a trust fund kid who has never needed to do a day’s work in his life, but when the story starts, we discover that Maxim has just inherited the earldom of Trevethick due to his older brother’s death.
So, not only is he rich but he is also titled.
In true Regency style, Maxim is even a rake, swapping bed partners every night in these modern times with the aid of Tinder.
And of course, in the total opposite of that, Alessia is a virgin.
In these modern times with Tinder? Well, James’s excuse is that Alessia was brought up in a very conservative and traditional part of Albania – so conservative that at one point she is described as thinking “it’s not her place to question a man”.
The final ingredient in our Regency hero mix is emotional conflict.
And here, it is supplied by the fact that Maxim, as the spare to his brother’s heir, has never needed to be responsible for anyone or anything other than himself. But with his brother’s unexpected death, he is now responsible for three country estates and all those who work on them, as well as some London property.
As he says: “My speciality is being the black sheep of the family. No one has any expectations of me, I make sure of that. Always.”
Meanwhile, our heroine Alessia is emblematic of a thoroughly modern problem that manages to place her perfectly for Maxim to swoop in and save.
Running away from home due to an unwanted arranged marriage, Alessia finds herself at the mercy of human traffickers, who intend to sell her into prostitution in England. However, she manages to escape and find her mother’s old friend, who gets her an undocumented job as a cleaner – or daily, as James likes to emphasise.
When the traffickers manage to track her down at Maxim’s apartment, he naturally – having developed feelings that he doesn’t realise is love for her – steps in and uses his vast fortune and connections to help her.
So, she’s spunky, needs help, is beautiful (“wide eyes, the colour of a fine espresso and framed by the longest lashes I’ve ever seen”), and not to mention, gifted at playing the piano and chess, and a domestic goddess to boot.
Romance heroine stereotypes: check, check and check.
But I do commend James for emphasising Maxim’s efforts to ensure Alessia is comfortable and consents to their sexual activity, especially as she is in such a vulnerable position.
Romance fans should be quite happy with this first non-Fifty Shades book from James, providing they are not expecting anything extraordinary or unusual.
Fans of Regency romance, in particular, might get a kick out of this modernised Regency tale.
The only thing I would sound some caution about is that Maxim’s whining and rather unlikability (we are introduced to him as he is unable to sleep after having sex with his brother’s widow) in the first part of the book can get rather annoying, so perhaps just skim through those parts.