Of Noble Birth
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I heard once that there are only three or four actual stories in literature, and authors just take those three or four plots and tweak them to fit their own writing. This very well might be true, and Lord knows romance novels are some of the most formulaic novels out there. If the formula works, reading a book can be a bit like coming home; when it doesn't work, you're left with an incredibly boring book. Unfortunately, Of Noble Birth by Brenda Novak falls into the latter category.

The book begins with a birth. It’s 1829, and the Duke of Greystone’s wife just delivered a son, but the boy was born missing part of one of his arms. Enraged by this deformity, the Duke flies into a rage and tries to kill the child. Luckily, the boy—named Nathaniel—is safely spirited away by a maid.

We fast-forward to 1859, where we meet Alexandra Cogsworth, a lowly seamstress who’s desperate to escape an abusive stepfather. Nathaniel Kent, now a man, makes his living as a pirate, chasing down and capturing his father’s ships as a way of revenge. Nathaniel decides to kidnap his half-sister, the Duke’s daughter by his second marriage, and winds up abducting Alexandra in a case of mistaken identity (our first formulaic bit).

Aboard his ship, Nathaniel and Alexandra fight against their attraction to each other; Nathaniel thinks they’re related, and even though Alexandra knows the truth, she doesn’t want to invite danger. Once Alexandra’s true identity is known, Nathaniel spends the rest of the novel trying to save Alexandra from one dangerous situation or another—formulaic again—all the while trying to thwart his father and half-brother (the Marquess of Clifton, who is apparently selling rifles to Russians).

I had a really hard time getting through this book. Despite the formula, it was so confusing. It seemed as if each character had three or four different names and titles, and because there was a huge cast of characters, I could never tell who was important to the plot and who wasn’t. I spent the better part of the first half of the novel under the impression that Alexandra’s stepfather was the same person as Nathaniel’s father, the Duke (he wasn’t).

Everything was just too complicated—the plot, the dialogue, the characters, the locations. I wondered if the author decided to take one plot point from her favorite 15 romance novels and throw them all into this one. And to add insult to injury, there weren’t even any love scenes. That’s like calling a dessert “chocolate pudding,” only to find it doesn’t contain any chocolate.

This book was really, really disappointing. It was as if I had my own case of mistaken identity—I mistook Of Noble Birth for a good romance novel.

I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.

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