by Gayle Callen, historical (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-804948
I haven't read Gayle Callen's Avon debut, The Darkest Knight, hence I can only guess that this is its sequel. That's the problem with this medieval romance, albeit not a big one - it's a sequel that starts out without telling me it's a sequel. I'm a bit confused as to why the hero is carrying dowry money - whose money? - through a forest in the opening scene and why the hero is disgraced until it hit me late in the middle of the book. Oh! It's a sequel of sorts!
So let me try to piece things together. The Earl of Bolton, James Markham, is supposed to marry the heroine in the previous book but that lass married the hero in the first book instead (am I right?). There's rumor saying that James tried to force himself on that lass and hence, as a result, he is out of favors of sorts with King Henry. Now, he is carrying dowry money when he is ambushed by lack Angel and her Merry Men. Okay, it's Man, singular - Black Angel is actually Lady Isabel Altherstone, last of the Mansfields, and with her companion, is out to rob James. James, you see, is the evil Enemy whose father maimed her father. Isabel is taught by her father to hate all Markhams and is raised to wreck vengeance on James.
I was so excited by the second chapter. Robin Hood meets Romeo and Juliet! What could be more fun? Especially following the successful thievery, Isabel has the audacity to sneak into James' bedroom to leave nasty tell-tale Black Angel was here thingies all over the man's personal space. Of course, she's captured, in a really fun chase scene. I was practically jumping out of seat in anticipation of a good, exciting read full of sexy, witty Bernedict-Beatrice repartees.
Things go boring, however, when King Henry decides that James and Isabel should get shackled. After all, James is a fine knight who has done a lot for Henry, but let's face it, Isabel's the only rich, moneyed lass with land who Henry can think of worthy of James' (low) reputation. James is embarrassed, while Isabel is livid. While he's amenable to marriage, for that saucy wench is rather exciting and beautiful and moneyed to boot, she is definitely not. Hence the biggest peeve I have with this book hereafter - Shrieky, Impetuous Isabel.
Isabel does a lot of things that cause headaches for James. She insults him, spurns him, spreads rumors about him - generally defying him in ways so open that I'm sure, with a lesser man, would have her pushed down the stairs and earn her a broken neck. Isabel degenerates from a brave, strong, willful heroine to a childish, shrieky Minnie Mouse character with each of her antics. Maybe because I can't reconcile the cartoony nature of her antics with the supposedly deep hatred she bears James. Why? His father maimed her father - so what, really? I'd love to find out why she is so loyal to her father, but that man is out of the story most of the time. Hence I never get her side of the story - all I get is James' side, and believe me, it really makes her look like an overgrown Smurfette throwing tantrums unreasonably.
Worse, James is a wonderful man. He is kind, and he is more patient with that annoying woman than anyone should be. Pair the Nice Wonderful Hero with the Annoying Shrew With Peas For Brains and what do you get? The Martyr and The Bimbo.
Mind you, the book is readable. Quite fun, the first few chapters and some quiet moments when Isabel behaves sensibly. It is only that the rest of the book, when Primadonna Isabel takes the limelight, that makes me want to throw rotten tomatoes at the stage.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
Search for more reviews of works by this author: