Warner, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61110-7
Historical Romance, 2002
To say that Claire Delacroix has outdone herself with The Rogue isn’t that far-fetched of an idea. I know, I have ripped her apart in the past for her childish and linear plotting, but this one actually turns into a taut and gripping story towards its later half.
That’s not to say that it’s without faults. The most obvious is the language. Told in first person by the 14th century lass Ysabella of Ravensmuir, words like “monogamy” crop up in her narration. Out of curiosity, I look up the Merriam-Webster dictionary and guess what? The word “monogamy” is used only from the 16th century onwards. When a book has a history dunce like me scratching my head and doing some looking up of my own to check its veracity, I can only imagine what a stricter history buff will do to this book. And shudder.
Also, the hero’s name is Merlyn and he is a laird of Ravensmuir. I immediately thought this book is set in Scotland… but wait, isn’t Merlyn a Welsh name? Then a character named Rhys crop out, and I have to do an online search for “laird in Wales”. Two hours later, I still can’t find out if they have lairds in Wales. I’ll leave that one to the experts.
Then a visit to the author’s website shows that she has indeed set her story in Scotland. Merlyn and Ritz Fitzwilliams – Scottish names? Oh, okay.
It’s not as bewildering as our hero harvesting fruits in winter or something equally bizarre that has cropped up in the author’s previous books, but these things can be distracting, you know.
I also don’t understand the heroine, to be honest. When the story begins, she is living a horrible, poverty-ridden life of hardship because everyone believes her to be a witch. But she likes this better than going back to her “legal spouse” (by the way, “legal” is a 16th century word – oh goodness, I’m turning into an etymology freak) because Merlyn creates or forages old cruddy relics and sell them off to the gullible as religious artifacts. To her, this is a fate that will doom her to hell, the religious type that she is.
But Merlyn soon comes back into her life, and he wants her help. She immediately gets the hots for him. Ms Delacroix doesn’t do a good job here – Ysabella – by the way, I thought Welsh folks, not Scots, use the Y thing in their names? – falls back right into his arms, and I don’t see why. If she can live a life of hardship and all for the sake of her soul, she’d better not fall back onto his meat stick and risk hell and damnation again barely minutes after she sees him again. But she does. Oops.
And Merlyn sets in motion a really, stupid, convoluted plot just to get her to sleep with him again, all the while he is ranting and ordering her about like an idiot. What happened to niceties? Gallantry? And Ysabella, the “Scots” gal who is spunky and intelligent (or so the author tells me without any hint of irony in her afterword), melts and swoons at his manly taking her for granted.
Okay, so the romance is a complete flop where I am concerned, but on her own and when she’s not being pushed around by her Scots-guy-who-isn’t, Ysabella actually exhibits some dry wit and some decent (not excellent, but decent) measure of brainpower. The story also becomes tighter and more readable towards the late half in a decent Gothic-like mystery. Although I must also point out that the author has an irritating tendency to have her characters delaying communication or witholding secrets just for the sake of contrived delay tactics.
So in a way, this is one book that gets better as I keep reading, so that’s a good thing. On the other hand, the author’s trademark nilly-willy nonexistent historical accuracy (it’s not even wallpaper or even revisionary history, it’s WTF history we’re talking about) and cardboard villains are still prevalent. Still, the rather two-dimensional heroine that pretty much comes alive to me and the tightly-paced plot – even if it is implausible at times – keeps me reading. I enjoyed this book more than anything else from this author in the past. That’s a good thing, right?