Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20797-1
Historical Romance, 2003
If May McGoldrick has cut down the number of subplots (and the stereotypical cast in the process) and gives the heroine a little bit of imperfection, Borrowed Dreams will be the best book this author has ever written. Okay, it is easily one of this author’s better books, thanks to the intriguing conflict that drives the story. Nonetheless, things can always be improved here and there.
Millicent Wentworth, a widow, is on a quest to save the world, or so it seems. Her late husband was abusive, et cetera, and worse, he had several plantations in Jamaica that used slaves! Eeeuw, who would do such a ghastly thing? So what our Munificent Milicent does is to buy all the slaves after her husband’s death, set them free, and make them work at her estate. At their own free will, of course. Her latest Save the Downtrodden Slaves campaign sees her paying 110 pounds for an old woman, who happens to be a wise healer. This Wise Healer part is very important, because our hero is traumatized and could use some wise words to get well and give the heroine a big good whopper of a gobsmacking shag.
Our hero is Lyon Pennington, who is lost in a haze of laudanum addiction after an accident. His mother offers to repay all of Munificent Milicent’s outstanding debts (saving the world is never cheap, mind you, especially when hubby left a pile of his own debts) in return for Munificent’s marrying Lyon in name only and helping him overcome his mental trauma. Munificent, with the Wise Old Crone and enough familiar secondary characters (earnest but gullible servant girl, loyal and protective manservant, the silent and misunderstood gallant giant with a big secret, et cetera), will soon coax Lyon to being happy and cheery once more. But wait, as Munificent’s enemies gather to launch an assault on her well-being, can true love last and save the day?
The best parts of this book is Munificent patiently winning over Lyon. Lyon is a rather realistic guy with enough issues to make him depressed, while Munificent, well, I wish she is real so that I can hire her to take care of my old mother. With her self-esteem issues, she’ll come cheap too. Munificent’s glowing beacon of purity is acceptable and even welcomed when she’s dealing with Lyon, but once Lyon is up and about, this aura of holiness of hers gets really tedious fast. Not only is she perfect, she is also so humble that she insists that she’s plain and there’s no way Lyon will be attracted to her. Perfect and so insistent on being humble, Munificent is so annoying.
The external conflicts start to hedge up when Lyon transforms from Invalid Veggie to Prince Charming, and that’s when this book gets a little dull. The familiar secondary cast overwhelms the story with often repetitious retellings told from each of their points of view, and alas, with their predictable characterization, their points of view are equally predictable. The villain is pretty over-the-top silly, the ex-slaves are depicted as so sage and knowledgeable while so respectful and oh-so-grateful to the Missus, ugh.
The scenes of Munificent drawing Lyon out of his shell are definitely worth a read. It seems unfortunate, therefore, that soon Lyon recovers to turn into a formulaic hero, Munificent becomes tedious, and the story soon sinks into a pool of pedestrian plotting. Despite being very readable, Borrowed Dreams is often too predictable and formulaic for its own good.