Once Tempted
by Elizabeth Boyle, historical (2001)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81535-4


Once Tempted could've been grand. But the problem is, it is as if the author has submitted a 1,000 paged work to her editor. Some pages have to go.

"But everything's important!" Ms Boyle may say.

"Okay," the editor may reply, "Here's a quick-fix." Upon which Ms Editor grabs the pages in the middle of the story and toss them into the rubbish bin. "Go home and polish things up with what's left."

Once Tempted takes its time to get to the middle, and then things get rushed to the point that the story degenerates into credibility-free gibberish. Let me explain.

Our heroine is Olivia Sutton. Once she was the unwitting pawn of the Marquis of Blackstone who exploited her code-deciphering abilities (as well as her ability to speak what seemed like bazillion languages - wow) for No Good. The Marquis ended up framing her for murder. Olivia isn't the foolish one, however, so she fled and reinvented herself as a governess living a quiet, under-the-law's-radar life for the next seven years.

Today, our hero Major Robert Danvers need to flush out Olivia to help him decipher clues that will lead England to vanquish those French frogs. Viva la England! Olivia, however, doesn't care - she just wants revenge. Robert looks just like her Marquis, so she plots. It's a mistaken identity soon resolved, culminating in Robert tossing Olivia over his shoulders and dragging her screaming into his sea voyage to find the Great Treasure that is the Salvation of Europe.

Until this point, things seem good. They don't trust each other. Understandable, since (a) he thinks her a murderess, traitor, and tramp, and (b) she thinks he's Blackstone, devil's spawn. But I guess the pages that editor tossed down the bin must be the subsequent "missing trust-forming and relationship nurturing" pages, because next thing I know, those two are swayin' and rockin' in their cabin to the rhythm of the waves hitting their ship. Huh? And then they are both trusting and loving and then rockin' and swayin' some more even as some dark evil forces plot to thwart our lovers.

And here, Ms Boyle must have then padded the whole lack of convincing emotional drama with lots of fast-paced action drama. But still, it doesn't hold. Robert is annoying in that he just won't tell Olivia anything important until it's almost too late. Olivia, for a smart heroine, is surprisingly spineless and oh, she trusts Robert oh the mostest, she keeps telling me... until the Big Misunderstanding thing arrives late into the story. So much for trust.

Once Tempted just doesn't make sense as a romance. Oh, the writing is crisp, clean, and very readable, but where's the realistic bonding? Where's the genuine trust between those two (telling me "Oh I trust him!" out of the blue doesn't count). There's a feel of - I don't know, rushed, padded at the last moment job to Once Tempted. It's creaking and full of character- and plotholes, and I think we will need quite a lot of Band Aids to repair this baby.

Maybe next time, Ms Boyle will get her pacing and character development right. She has the voice and the potential, but there's still some work to be done yet.

Rating: 60


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