I always love novels where the heroine wins against all odds. Where the wallflower, spinster, or older sister just happens to capture the heart of a hardened rake. But I enjoy to an even greater extent the very rare novel in which the hero is made to be the underdog. Where - as in Gail Eastwood's An Unlikely Hero - the hero is a gentleman of modest means, not an infamous ladies man, and yet still wins the love of a golden-haired "goddess." So I enjoyed that aspect of the novel. I also loved that - for once - the hero did not have the mentality of a randy thirteen year old boy. Instead, he was merely "conscious" of beautiful women in his surroundings. Humor was scare, but I was amused by the handful of witty comments that were scattered throughout the story. I also very much enjoyed the writing tone of the novel, descriptive yet straightforward. As a result, I would have been very happy to give An Unlikely Hero an excellent rating.... if not for the unfortunate fact that the novel was held back by the many aspects I did not enjoy.
The hero is a viscount of modest fortune, who is also a bit bookish. After much urging, he is reluctantly convinced by his friend - the son of a duke - to attend an elite house party the duke is hosting. The moment the hero sees his friend's sisters, he is astounded by their famed physical beauty. He resolves to remain in the shadows of the party and keep out of the sisters' way. The hero knows he has neither the fortune nor the title to court the sisters, a fact their father tells him more than once. The heroine initially seems outspoken and a bit manipulative, but the reader (and the hero) gradually discover the hidden depths to her character. Her uncertainties, her great love of her sister, and the hardships she has faced in the past all play a part in the young woman she is now. The hero and heroine dance around things for quite a while in a state of semi-angst, until everything works out quite perfectly in the HEA.
To my disappointment, there were several elements in An Unlikely Hero that really bothered me. For one thing, it wasn't clear which twin represented the heroine for a good third of the story. It seemed extremely strange to me to have the hero initially attracted to both twin sisters in equal measure, and for both of them to be romantically interested in the hero in their own way. And even as the distinction between the twins is finally made, it is pretty much a scenario where the reader has to take the narrator's word that the hero is falling in love with one girl over the other. Another annoyance was the blackmail plot. It added intrigue and some external conflict to the story, but all of the developments felt a bit unbelievable. Finally, there was the angst. After about 40% of the story, when the hero and heroine both realize they (probably) love each other, the author erects artificial barriers to keep the plot going. So small misunderstandings abound: the heroine tries too hard to be a martyr, the hero is afraid of marrying for love... and other ridiculous conflicts that might appear is a mediocre historical romance. Each of these conflicts are tied up at the very end of the story, in the span of about five seconds.
Gail Eastwood's An Unlikely Hero was a good regency. It was very well-written, had a moderately engaging storyline, and contained an "unlikely" hero. It was not, however, a great regency. There were far too many negatives - such as a awkward twin plot and unimaginative conflicts - for me to fully enjoy or recommend the novel.