Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 0-8217-7952-4
Historical Romance, 2005
Tracy MacNish’s debut historical romance Veiled Promises is a rather uneven effort but nonetheless I find myself very intrigued by the author’s voice to dismiss this book entirely. The author’s plotting is very epic in an old-school manner but she also explores her characters’ psyche deftly in a manner reminiscent of Karen Ranney. The one big downfall of this book though is how the author completely loses control of her story by about the midpoint of the book.
First, the story. This story is actually very bleak and depressing. The author actually did research on the ways those people back in the 1700s tortured their children, mind you. Our heroine Camille Bradburn is tyrannized by her mother Amelia since she was a kid. Amelia is a control freak while her husband is more interested in boinking the servants, and Camille’s brother can’t care less about the family. Camille will actually be whipped for even the most minor transgressions. When the Irish seafaring captain Patrick Mullen shows up one day to purchase some horses from her father, Camille sees him as someone she’d rebel against her motherwith. What happens next? All kinds of epic struggles and obstacles that include separation and fun scenes of Camille getting beaten up, raped, and more.
Yes, the story is depressing but at the same time the author does something right in the first half of the book when she successfully portrays Camille as a woman who is trapped in her bleak life but is still defiant and even mutinous in her mind that she actually imagines various scenarios where her mother dies and frees her to live her own life. I like how she seems willing to brave everything just to seize a chance at happiness with Patrick – at the very least, Camille is willing to do something to get herself out of her circumstances. She seems like an intelligent young lady. Patrick is sweet and perhaps too nice to the point of flatness, but after what she’s been through, Camille deserves some sweetness in her life.
But if those two run away like they plan to, this book will only be half its current length, so Ms MacNish starts piling on the obstacles and impediments to these two’s happily ever after that these obstacles start to come off as very artificial plot devices crammed in solely to keep the story going until I start to worry that I may end up being traumatized by all those horrible, horrible things that happen to Camille. Amelia at first seems like a hypocrite who punishes others for her own weaknesses – she’s a vile person, but still a realistic vile person one can encounter in real life – but as the story progresses, she becomes the Evil Mommy from hell. I’m not talking about a Joan Crawford of Mommie Dearest kind of crazy, mind you, I’m talking about the Norman Bates brand of insane.
What really sinks this book by this point is Camille’s eventual meek and pathetic acceptance of her fate. And worst of all, she has to make the worst conclusion possible from her situation – by deciding that she has to push away Patrick and not love in order to be happy when she should be pushing a pillow over her mother’s face – which only prolongs the story by an unnecessarily painful twenty or so pages while Patrick offers Camille a chance to get away from everything and she goes nooooo, she can only be happy if she’s free from him. The first half of the book builds Camille up to be someone who is willing to seize a chance to be free of her mother but the second half of the book forces Camille to remain passively accepting of her life even as she thinks all kinds of unhappy thoughts. The second half feels really forced on the author’s part, as if she’s willing to retcon Camille’s character within the same book just to keep the sadistic tortures on Camille coming. Probably that explains Camille’s addled actions at the late stages of the book, come to think of it: Camille’s gone understandably bonkers after everything that has happened to her in this story.
At the same time, Ms MacNish has delved into the psychology of Camille pretty well at this point that I can actually understand why Camille chooses to remain trapped in her life once Patrick doesn’t deliver the happily ever after that he is supposed to earlier on in the story. Camille is an abused victim – just as in real life where people who are abused end up afraid to leave their abusers, Camille ends up continuously remaining with and being tortured by the unpleasant characters in this book to the point that she doesn’t even seize a chance at escaping her life at several points in this story after Patrick vanishes. It is frustrating for me to see Camille passively remaining a victim, but I can at the same time understand why she is afraid to break free. As I’ve mentioned early on in this review, Ms MacNish has a deft hand at characterization – she takes the effort to really let her readers into her characters’ heads and she does a good job in creating complicated yet realistic characters in a coherent manner.
I have no problems with Ms MacNish’s characters, it’s her overuse of all kinds of horrible yet artificial conflicts to prolong the story that strikes me as overkill in this story. She always has one more added torture, one more added conflict, one more, and then another, to the point that I am bombarded incessantly by vileness in this story and I am more relieved than anything else to see the story end. I have nothing against a dark and bleak romance featuring really tortured characters, especially when the psychology of such tortured characters are as well portrayed as it is in Veiled Promises, but I feel Ms MacNish should have reined herself in a little. The second half of the book is like a very bad adult cartoon, which is most unfortunate given how nicely done the first half of the book leading to the main characters’ big separation is.