by Kathleen Eschenburg, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81568-0
Kathleen Eschenburg's Seen By Moonlight has a familiar premise - a marriage of convenience - and the walking wounded characters are essentially carving out a plot that is nothing more than the dreaded "he/she is too good for me, I will set him/her free by not telling him/her how I feel" conflict.
Annabelle Hallston is your every day opiniated, educated daughter of the always-reliable scholar daddy that dies leaving his daughter and two sons a mountain of debts. Peyton Kincaid offers to clear the debts in return for Annabelle marrying his son Royce. For the sake of her brothers, Annabelle agrees. She and Royce actually like each other, but Royce is furious at his father's actions. This is just another one of the many reasons why Royce and his father are at loggerheads with each other. Royce agrees to the marriage but only if certain extra rules are laid down - when Annabelle fails to conceive in five years, the marriage would be dissolved, but when this happens, Annabelle would still receive funds and properties that would never leave her wanting for anything. And then he sets out to join the War Between The States, leaving the marriage unconsummated. But when the War sweeps across the country, Royce and Annabelle may end up needing each other more than they initially suspected.
Royce is a tortured hero, maybe too tortured, especially when compared to Annabelle who's more of a conventional goody-goody heroine. He is a soldier that abhors the institution of slavery but fought for the South out of loyalty. But his baggages span deeper than this, some of which are tied up to the not-so-pretty history of his plantation. The result of this is a hero that dominates the story at the expense of the heroine.
Unfortunately, while this book is rife with possibilities, Ms Eschenburg doesn't seem to know how to fully capitalize on them. Her main and secondary characters are essentially very noticeable stereotypes that don't really come alive to me. Despite a few nicely written scenes, on the whole the relationship between Annabelle and Royce is a straightforward "pushing him/her away" tale that gets tedious especially when it drags on towards the end. Also, while I nowadays tend to gloss over love scenes unless the chemistry between the main characters are superbly drawn-out, I can't help but to be struck by how awkward and stilted the love scenes are in this book. Perhaps the "closing the bedroom door on the reader" approach would have been better suited to this book.
Seen By Moonlight demonstrates that Kathleen Eschenburg has the ability to create well-defined characters, even if the characters in this book don't manage to transcend stereotypes to become the author's own characters. Now if she can work on maybe losing some of the more obvious clichés in her story, she can come up with a really good book one of these days.
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