Sara Lindsey’s debut Promise Me Tonight doesn’t quite live up to its initial promise. Lindsey has a crisp writing style, and a lot of wit that lends to several laugh-out-loud moments throughout the course of the book. But laughter gives way to teeth grinding when it comes to her hero and heroine, James Sheffield and Isabella Weston. This is, effectively, a love story between two selfish twits. That’s unfortunate, because the set-up is classic: The cheeky little girl who has loved her brother’s best friend her whole life blossoms into a beautiful woman determined to win his heart. Not quite as classic is how it was nearly impossible for me to root for them.
Isabella charmed this reader at first. I found her fresh and vivacious. Then, my jaw dropped and I had to set the book aside for a while. Isabella, devoted to James since childhood, is so single-minded in her quest to marry him that she does not care what he wants. Izzie’s only goal in life is to be James’ wife. I suppose you could say it’s kind of subversive to have a guy forced into marriage in a historical romance but I didn’t subscribe to that particular school of thought while reading this. I also found it vaguely offensive that Izzie makes James promise not to enlist in the army because she’s petrified he might die, and continues to wail about “saving him” throughout the novel. Youth and naiveté can often be appealing qualities, but in Izzie’s case it just makes her incredibly self-centered. That’s not to say that James is off the hook. As I said, they’re both twits. The reader is supposed to believe that James is so damaged by the loss of his parents at a young age and being raised by a cruel grandfather that he can’t dare to love anyone. However, he seems to have no problem tossing up Izzie’s skirts in the library the first time he sees her as a beautiful young woman…and no problem doing other sexual things with her and generally confusing her into thinking trapping him into marriage might actually work in her favor.
By the time the story hit its halfway point, with the two of them married, I really couldn’t empathize with either of them. Izzie’s parents, siblings and Aunt Kate were the only characters I liked. And pushing forward toward the book’s resolution only increased my frustration, because James and Izzie traded clueless selfishness for outright entitlement. Their inevitable Happily Ever After didn’t matter to me. And that’s a shame, because, as I said, Lindsey has a lot of wit. The Westons as a family are affable and easy to connect to. There was promise in this book…it just wasn’t fulfilled.