Winter Garden
by Adele Ashworth, historical (2000)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-12866-X


I have been procrastinating in writing this review, because I fear the accusations of "Oh no, she's being deliberately contrary again!" rearing their ugly head and flooding my mailbox. Yes, I recognize the fact that Winter Garden is a well-written story with well-developed characters. It is touted as a character-driven romance with its non-virginal spy heroine hailed as daring and different.

Chalk this one as yet another casualty of overhigh expectations, because I find this story tad dull. It's not because of the hero, who is wonderfully dark and tormented yet retaining his heroic qualities at the same time. No, it's the heroine. After all the Hail Madelines I have been reading in romance reviews, I do feel tad cheated that she is... well, ordinary.

By my standards anyway. So what if she's a sexually-experienced (yet not promiscuous, of course, so fear not, readers) and a spy? She doesn't read like one to me. Patriotic British woman who has a lousy childhood (thanks to an opium-loving mommy) who ends up shouldering all the burdens of the world. Ugh. Women spies are supposed to cold, calculating, and ruthless to be spies. Madeline's just too nice. And quite boring in her righteousness.

But Thomas Blackwood, ah, now that's a different story. Dark and noble - what an intriguing man indeed. I love the way he obsesses over Madeline and the way he demonstrates his overprotectiveness. So what if he's scarred? That only adds to his dangerous charms.

If you are wondering when I am going to talk about the plot, well, there isn't much of one. Just Madeline and Thomas working together to break opium-smuggling rings in Winter Garden (opium rings - oh boy, I can see Madeline's Holy Joan Of Arc ire raising already). But Winter Garden is more of a character study than a plot-driven novel, with the spy thing pushed to the background.

Could've worked wonders, of course, if Madeline isn't the typical goody-woody woman with the token baggage to keep her going in her crusade to save the world. I admit I have a pretty good time in Winter Garden, but that's because of Thomas. When it comes to heroines holding their own, well, they have a long way more to go. While Madeline's adherence to the Codex of Romance Heroine Behavior may be good for reasons of economics, for this reader the experience is somewhat a letdown.

Rating: 80


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