by Rexanne Becnel, Anne Logan, Deborah Martin, and Meagan McKinney; historical (1997)
St Martin's Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-96318-1
They say only the desperate make deals with the Devil. Well, if three of the four novellas in this anthology are anything to go by, may I suggest only the desperate and pathetic make deals with the Devil. Of the four stories in A Dance With The Devil, only Out Of The Night by Deborah Martin can warrant a second reread by me. The other three... ugh.
Rexanne Becnel's The Wager has Amanda Chastain, impoverished belle of New Orleans, wagering her virtue to Nicholas Devereaux in return for him not making her brother lose the Chastain house to Nicholas. Desperate? Maybe, but any woman who keeps telling herself "No more, I will not tolerate my brother's stupidity NO MORE!" only to clam up inside when confronted with the said idiot brother deserves the label pathetic as well.
Nicholas is a bad, bad gambler who preys on silly buffoons with too much money and too little brain cells like Pierre Chastain. Fair enough - at least Nicky has brains. But to pair him with "virtuous" Amanda is a big mistake. Amanda's every sentence ends with an exclamation mark - "Like this!" - making her look like a spoiled, petulant bimbo. She can't make up her mind. She will not go through the wager! She loves Nicky's kiss! She wants more, but oh, she can't! No! Yes! No! Yes!
Lucky for her Nicky takes it into his head to like her enough to marry her. Can't see why myself, for she is easy meat and hardly a match for his devilry. I give them two months before he gets bored and moves on to other easy mark.
Oh, and Pierre never gets the scolding, much less setting down, he deserves. Ain't family fun?
Anne Logan's The Haunting Of Sarah is the worst of the lot. It features Sarah Bonvillain of New Orleans who takes the word pathetic to gargantuan new heights. She is in love with Jason Dubuisson, and eagerly awaits his arrival one day, where she will show him the wedding gown she intends to wear on their upcoming wedding. But Jason, ah, he ditches her right there and then, with a "See ya babe" message that makes Homer Simpson look like Byron.
Cut to Chapter 1, which is two years later, where Sarah is now the wife of Jason's evil twin brother Jered. Why does she marry such an unpleasant man, I have no idea. I'm not told, so I guess she must be so desperate as to get a piece of Jason that even an inferior doppelgänger will do. Anyway, Jered is now seriously ill and Sarah takes care of him, bearing his abuse like some pathetic Lil' Match Girl.
I'm told she has never gotten over Jason even after he has dumped her like a sack of coals. She weeps every night, dreaming of Jason, and she sees him in every man's face. She yearns for his kiss! She dreams of his touch! She loves him! Then comes the news that Jason is killed, a war spy... Oh, oh, oh! Jason! Jason! Jason!!! NO!!!!!!!!!!
Isn't that touching? Someone do her a favor and put this woman down.
So in love and so lonely is our courageous woman that she screams to the skies, "I will give my soul to the Devil for one night! Just one night with Jason!"
I am wondering if Jason the rotting cadaver will end up next to her in bed... nope, this is a romance story, so Jason can't be dead. As this novella stumbles to its clumsy happy ending, Sarah weeps, mopes, poses tragically, and cries some more. Only the pathetic, indeed.
Then it's Deborah Martin's Out Of The Night, which features two people who, at least, talk and act like functional human beings. Dr Victor Doronet is tired of losing the fight and little boys' lives to - hmm, I'm never told the name of the disease. He makes a reckless vow that he'd give his soul to the Devil to save these kids, and hey presto! A beautiful half-Indian woman walks in and saves the kids. Is she the Devil or an angel in disguise?
She's very mortal, actually, but she is also facing as much mental baggage as Victor. Both learn to believe in life and hope as they help each other battle the epidemic as well as folks' prejudice against heroine Lilith McCurtain. This is a short yet effective story, darker than anything the author writes today under the name Sabrina Jeffries, yet it works as an inspiring tale of hope and belief.
Then Meagan McKinney's The Monk throws cold water on my brief euphoria. Leila Randolph, bankrupt New Orleans belle, is to marry Charles Drew, whom she loathes. Unknown to her, Aidan Lacour, whom she blames for her family's financial ruin, loves her. But too bad, she can't stand him either.
In fact, Leila can't stand anybody - she finds fault in everything and anything and whines. Then, one night, a mysterious fellow in monk robes arrives to become her personal therapist, where he listens as she whines and whines and whines like a broken record about how people doesn't love her, how life is unfair, et cetera.
Finally, after some mysterious fellow delivers her family from poverty, she decides she loves this Mysterious Fellow after all! Marriage, the end.
Why would the Devil want a whiny soul like Leila's, I will never know.
If the purpose of this anthology is to teach us readers never, ever turn to Satan for anything, it works. There's no way I want to end up like any of the problem-riddled, whiny, silly, passive, inane heroines of the three lousy novellas mentioned above. Only Deborah Martin's novella saves this anthology from being a total strike-out, but one out of four is still way below the passing grade as far as I'm concerned.
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