Pale Moon Rider
by Marsha Canham, historical (1998)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-22259-1


I've always been a fan of Marsha Canham's special brand of exuberant, in-your-face swashbuckling romances. She isn't afraid to create strong, courageous heroines (except for that ninny in Straight For The Heart, but we all have our bad days) that are more than a match for their men. And best of all, these heroines aren't always Princess Xena material - even at the most waif-like, most helpless, these women always manage to find ways to come out on top.

And her heroes? Yummy, naughty bad boys, all of them. Pirates, outlaws, anything goes, but they all show traits of reluctant chivalry and heroism. And there's nothing more appealing than reluctant heroes.

And Pale Moon Rider is an excellent story that has everything I love about Ms Canham's stories - a strong heroine, a rakish hero, and strong, tight plotting that never takes the contrived and easy way out. It also manages to be poignant and romantic. The result is sheer enjoyment on my part.

Displaced French noblewoman Renèe d'Anton and her brother fled the French Revolution only to find themselves powerless pawns in her uncle's games. She is to be married off to the vile Edgar Vincent, a cohort of her uncle in their illegal dealings. Worse, Colonel Roth, a despicable scum, is forcing her to act as bait for the capture of one Captain Starlight. This upstart Starlight fellow has been robbing the rich left and right, and now he has taken something Roth wanted very badly.

Ergo, Renèe has better play rich woman in a coach and let herself be robbed by Captain Starlight. Then she would spin some story to get Starlight to be her ally, and wham! Roth would then nab that fellow and hello, promotion.

Tyrone Hart is actually the fellow behind Captain Starlight, and he plays right into Renèe's hand. But she has a plan of her own. She has jewels, and she will give them to Tyrone if he would help her and her brother escape England for New Orleans.

Tyrone doesn't exactly trust her, and he plans to double cross her and grab the jewels for himself. Roth and Edgar both want Renèe for themselves, and she just want to be left alone to start life anew with her brother in America. So who will get what they want?

The wonderful thing about Pale Moon Rider is that nothing is predictable. I find myself at the edge of the seat each time someone tries to betray or cheat the other - it's like a game of cards between expert gamblers: Tyrone, Renèe, and Roth just keep revealing surprises with each dealing of the cards. Of course, Tyrone and Renèe soon become allies as well as lovers, but Roth never let things run smoothly for them.

I must admit the first leg of Tyrone and Renèe's relationship doesn't exactly grab me - I can't help feeling that they fall into bed together too early, too soon. But characterization is above average. Renèe d'Anton may be in dire straits - she would have deliberately overdosed on laudanum if not for her brother's sake - but she is strong. She doesn't hesitate to do things sissy heroines would balk at to survive, and if she has to lie and betray to do it, so be it.

And Tyrone is a rogue who believes that he has no conscience, no mercy, robbing the rich for the sake of fun. He isn't a nobleman or even an illegitimate rich Earl's son, and he knows he has little to live or die for. But when he meets Renèe, he realizes that he wants more in this life that he ever thought possible. At first he tells himself he would betray her, he would kill her if she betrays him, but hey, he's doomed. He ends up playing a Prince Charming that is willing to risk all for the sake of providing Renèe, her brother, and even his best friend a happily-ever-after.

The plot moves like a bullet, filled with exciting intrigue. Roth is a truly despicable villain who has me rooting for his nasty, gory, death. Amidst treachery, escapes, and close calls all hurtling towards a final and very satisfying showdown, there is also a grand romance of a knight in rusty, tarnished, and creaky armor and the woman who loves him despite her better judgment. The final chapter makes me smile as well as shed a tear or two - who would've thought a simple declaration of love could be so moving?

Rating: 96


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