Ivy, $6.50, ISBN 0-8041-1955-4
Historical Romance, 2001
Fallen is written around the Scottish folk song Scarbro Fair. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s about this man asking a passerby to tell his ex-girlfriend at Scarborough that if she can (a) make him a cambric shirt without doing any stitching, (b) wash the shirt in water that does not originate from rain or ground, and (c) dry it on a thorn tree that has never blossomed since time began, he will marry her. To which the woman responds, why yes, honey can come collect his shirt if he can, for her, (a) find an acre of land at where the sea touches the sand, (b) plow it with a ram’s horn, and (c) reap and bind the harvest with a peacock feather.
In short, we have one bitter boyfriend taunting his ex and the ex responding in kind, “Drop dead!”
Fallen, however, isn’t a big misunderstanding story. It’s not even a reunion story. Instead it weaves the theme of trying to move on after being hurt in the past by love/emotion/whatever.
Gabriel Loundon, superspy, is drinking and gambling and whoring his way in a downward spiral spiral caused by guilt. Once, he boinked a lady of the night who turned out to be some French spy. Oops. The result is disaster. But instead of learning never to let his winkie control him, he now lets his winkie controls him altogether. Men! Or maybe I should say, stereotypes! But he has one chance to redeem himself if he can go to Scotland and find an enemy spy called L’cossais, who also happens to be his nemesis.
On Scotland, however, he gets some recuperative sex and love from Maggie MacLeod, who lives and heals and plays with her herbs and all in solitude after being bruised in a failed love affair with an untrue man.
Yes, there is absolutely nothing new in Fallen. Napoleonic spies, Scotland, healer Scots heroine with some rigid and twisted code of morality (always be hospitable to people that make you mad, for one), walking wounded heroes in need of a good woman’s love, walking wounded heroines in need of sexual healing… yadda yadda yadda.
In fact, it took me about a week to plow through the uninspired first half. It is a chore because the characters are so familiar and the plot is, at best, uninspired. Another wounded British superspy, another wounded Scots healer woman, another book that reads just like everything else. But in the second half, things happen. Big gestures of sacrifice happens, Maggie becomes a moving symbol of love as befits the song the story is based upon, and Gabriel becomes a wonderful, larger-than-life hero. Both become characters who would risk everything of theirs for love and the other’s safety. While I sniff into my Kleenex at the ending, I wonder why the author just can’t be like this instead of going all direly by the book in the first half.
So it’s like this: the second half would rate a ringing keeper, the first half just average. Average that, and I get a squarely borderline enjoyable book that only succeeds somewhat in making beautiful stereotypes.