A Fallen Woman
by Cheryl Bolen, historical (2002)
Zebra Ballad, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7249-X


The heroine of this book, Carlotta Ennis, was the mistress of Gregory, the hero in the related book With His Ring. Yes, Ms Bolen chickens out in the end by doing an unbelievable 360 where Carlotta's "virtue" is concerned, so if you don't like fake mistresses and other misunderstood dingbats, you may want to proceed with caution.

I enjoyed this book, but that's because things keep improving to the end. I must warn readers who aren't too enamored of the selfish heroine type, even I cringe at some of the nonsense Carlotta does in this story. The hero isn't such a prize either, so in my opinion, it's pretty much an equal pairing of dunderheads.

Carlotta is living in genteel poverty in Bath. Her true love - or so she believes - Gregory has dumped her for some genteel bride (hah, men!) and now she lives in some sort of hazy limbo of evading bill collectors and lamenting over the lost men in her life. She also has a son, Stevie, whom she dumps on her grandmother.

I know there will be readers who will howl for her blood because here is a woman who claims to love her son but refuses to leave Bath and its theatres and parties and all. But let's be fair, people: Carlotta does admit that she's a lousy mom, and Stevie is probably better off with his great-granny. Besides, when Stevie finally appears and turns out to be linguistically-challenged just like Elmer Fudd ("Wabbit season! Wemember, it's wabbit season!"), the darkside in me can fully understand why Carlotta wants to send the boy away.

Before she met Gregory, she had a hubby called Stephen Ennis (Stevie's father). Stephen died in the war, and she blames our hero James Rutledge for the man's death. James agrees, and this is why after he has left the war and inherited a title, he appears in Carlotta's life to make amends. He gives her lots of nice stuff (read: money) and gives lil' Stevie lots of opportunities to grow up to be a spoiled, overprivileged brat. But where does love factor in all of this?

The blurb of this book is rather misleading in that it leads me to believe that this story is one of those does-he-love-me-or-not whinefest. It's not that simple. Carlotta enters this relationship fully knowing that he's acting out of obligation. In fact, she wants to punish James for the death of the man who isn't her true love (as she tells me) by accepting money and gifts and pretending to forgive him when she actually will never do so. I told you I cringe at some of the nonsense Carlotta does in this story, didn't I?

But James isn't so noble either. At least Carlotta is honest in her mercenary intentions - she needs the money, and baby, who doesn't? But James can only hint at the fact that his friendship with the late Stephen may not be entirely sincere. He may have been carrying an illicit torch for the wife of the man he befriended only to get close to the wife. And his reaction when he learns of his wife's relationship with Gregory won't see him winning any Mr Congeniality prizes anytime soon.

They marry and move to James' place, where they clash over things like Carlotta's torch for Gregory and the mines he run. Here, there are many opportunities for Ms Bolen to screw up, but somehow she doesn't. Not to me anyway. Using everyone's favorite Tragedy Melodrama device, Ms Bolen shamelessly brings out the "Don't die, don't die darlin'!" dramatics, and I, for one, enjoy every shamelessly manipulative word. It doesn't mask the fact that James is an unreasonable blockhead at times, Carlotta is a dingbat, and important emotional issues are swept under the carpet in favor of "Don't die!" melodramatics. Still, it's all pretty fun in a cheesy way.

A Fallen Woman boasts sketchy characterizations and characters that often behave in bewildering ways, and it often evades hard-hitting relationship issues in favor of predictable plot devices, but still, it manages to be pretty readable and fun, thanks to the author's pretty bouncy and lively voice. Not too bad, really.

Rating: 77


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