Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-22630-9
Historical Romance, 2000
I’ve been a bad curmudgeon. I have been procrastinating in writing this review because I tried so hard, rereading a few times, to like this book better. I do like McClairen’s Isle: The Ravishing One, and that’s the crux of the thing – I just like it.
Of all the Merrick siblings, Fia is the only one strong enough to stand up to their father. She’s the only one who knows how he clicks and how he behaves, because in essence, he has moulded her into a female version of him. She learns of his perfidy in the first book, starts her rebellion against him in the second book, and it’s open warfare in this book.
But this closing of the Merrick sibling saga is more of an epilogue than a penultimate climax, much to my disappointment. Wanton’s Blush, Fia’s home, has burned down seven years ago and now Fia is a widow reigning in London as the Black Diamond. Cold, haughty, and untouchable, she finds herself in trouble when her late husband ends up deeding her stepson’s home to her father. Never fear, this woman plots her own counter-betrayal involving a false insurance scam with a man, James Barton.
James Barton’s partner is Thomas Donne, who is actually Thomas McClairen, the actual heir of McClairen’s Isle and is now a fugitive from the law hiding under a new identity. Once, Fia and he were enemies, with her infatuated with him but being too young, and he never forgetting that she is the daughter of the enemy. Now, he and Fia ends up living in the same town. He charges into her bedroom, declaring warfare, and she responds with seduction.
The plot of this story is really something I can’t explain much without exposing the plot twists and red herrings, so I’ll just leave it at that. I’ll just stick my fork in the characters.
Thing is, this story starts with an explosive bang. Fia is a wonderful heroine. Her father intends to subjugate her into doing his biddings, but she sabotages his plans by cultivating a scandalous reputation to the extent that no man would want to come close to marrying her for Ronald Merrick’s betterment. She also conspires to ruin him. And her slow thawing under her stepchildren’s acceptance of her makes wonderful reading. Fia has never known how unnatural her childhood has been until she became these children’s mother.
Then Thomas decides to kidnap Fia back to Wanton’s Blush, and here the whole story starts to plod. The pace goes slower and slower and finally to a standstill around page 200. Fia and Thomas have been circling around each other before this, trading barbs and innuendos while trying not to pounce on and rip each other’s clothes off. And in Wanton’s Blush, they continue to do that, only this time, they also do the ripping clothes thing as well.
Here, the main problem is Fia’s abrupt transformation from Fia Merrick the Black Diamond to Lulu the Poor Misunderstood Gal. If this transformation takes place anywhere else, I may just buy it, but all this occurs in Wanton’s Blush, Fia’s home. If anything, she should revert deeper into her confusion/hesitation to change, what with all the memories coming back to her. But no, she starts getting concerned about little boys’ safety. Okay. But when she reveals that she still hasn’t quite outgrown her childhood dreams of playing lady in waiting of a Highland equivalent of a knight in shining armor, I wonder if seasickness has affected her more deeply that I first thought.
Of course, maybe it’s the influence of having a man she loves at her side, allowing her to release her long suppressed girlish fantasies. But it’s hard to see it, because the entire transformation is too abrupt for me. Slowly, like when she grows concerned for Pip back in England, yes, but when she starts playing in the dirt and drawing up plans for rebuilding of a home she expresses nothing but loathing for until now – Eh?
And Thomas is also a problem. He never possess the charisma of the Merrick siblings or any other heroes of Ms Brockway. The main reason is because his professed hatred of Fia, never actually developing beyond the push/pull stage, is allowed to drag on for too long. At Wanton’s Blush, he sees her playing with flowers and stuff (in short, he sees her as yet another one of those typical heroines beloved of the genre, and wham! He wants to marry her. Eh? Maybe if more space has been allowed for him to flesh out his personality better, he will be a less shadowy figure and a more magnetic hero. Me, I look at Tunbridge wistfully and wonder how he will fare as Fia’s true love.
At page 300 does Fia finally gets back in character, her self doubts finally ringing real for once. Even at that point, things have gone downhill too far for me. There’s no sense of imminent excitement or the feel that things will rush headlong to a heady denouement. Thomas has already gotten back his inheritance, just like that, and Fia finds a way to destroy her father in an act more serendipitous than anything. There’s no final confrontation between Fia and Ronald (the man confronts a greater foe in the end), there’s just… nothing. Everything peters out like a stick of dynamite doused out.
While I must admit I shed a tear at the epilogue – the Merricks really deserve their warm reunions – I feel so disappointed that Fia never gets the chance to shine like her brothers in her story. McClairen’s Isle: The Ravishing One, alas, is too slow and too weak, and it gets only weaker with subsequent rereads. It is too conventional, and it bends Fia into a mold of typicality. It’s a disappointing story that again drives home the point that while tortured heroes are rakish and seductive, their female counterparts still have a long way to go.