The Night Drifter
by Susan Carroll, historical (2000)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00585-2


The characters in Susan Carroll's The Night Drifter are bloody irritating! What do you get when you combine a weepy, spineless heroine (who's supposed to be "strong") with a self-flagellating hero with some Caine complex and add in his wimpy, suspiciously-clingy-to-his-big-brother whiny brother? Me, I can't finish this book fast enough, if only to be in time to watch Xena on TV.

The plot is like this. The St Legers are a bunch of miserable lot under a curse. They, it seems, are dense enough that they can't find their one, true soulmate unless they rely on a Bride Finder. The Bride Finder is some fellow given a magical gift to feel some it whenever he or she discovers the right bride or bridegroom for a St Leger. If a St Leger doesn't get shackled, he or she will meet a bad end. Big deal - they're miserable already alive.

A St Leger also has psychic powers. Our hero Lancelot St Leger can do astral projections, i.e. send his "spirit" out of his body to spy on people bathing or something. Lance darlin' is also miserable, tells himself he has no soul, no heart, tells himself he is not worthy of love or his brother's affections, etc etc miserable etc. Really, if superpowers make you this way, I'd take The X-Men anytime. At least Wolverine's adamantium claws doesn't give him PMS.

Lance loses the Famous St Leger crystal sword after he stupidly uses it as a prop in a play. While doing his spooky act and drifting around like a ghostie to hunt for it, he encounters our Feminine Heroine Rosalind (note the similarity to Rosamunde Overton, that Jo Beverley heroine). Rosalind, too, is a widow, and yes, she is also the weepiest, wimpiest, irritatingly passive-st heroine ever.

Lance convinces Rosalind that he is the ghost of Lancelot. Just for fun. Imagine his horror when our Bride Finder declares, "She's the one!"

Oh, and Rosalind has the sword.

Lance thinks he's unworthy but can't help lusting after her, she weeps and screams and cries, he broods that he is one unworthy scum, she weeps and screams and cries, he sulks and calls himself unworthy of love, she shrieks and screams and weeps, and not even the bad guy trying to get his hands on that sword can save this story from being Muzak Mush Of The Year (so far).

What's wrong with Blair Witch Novel Part Deux? Let's start with Lance. For a hero, he's disgustingly whiny. Whine, whine, whine, to the tune of I'm not worthy! I'm a bastard! Even though I don't tell my readers why! I'm not worthy! Pity party pity party! He thinks he's - you guess it, unworthy - so he does his best to act the miserable sod he is. What for, really? Because of a Cheating Woman in the past, he thinks himself unworthy of Da's affection, his brother Val, everyone else? Silly oaf.

And Rosalind should please fans of melodrama. She's spineless. She doesn't speak, she whispers tearfully, sobs bitterly, holds back choked hurt, her eyes shiny with tears. If she's not swooning or weeping over the slightest thing, she's running off into dark lanes alone. Only to weep defiantly, of course, when she tries her best to hold off the bad guys. This gives me the opportunity to savor her realization that he's right, she can only hold on for so long! She bit back a sob of despair! Where's my rolling pin?

What do you call a widow who believes the legend of Arthur and Guinevere to the point of obsession? A widow who falls in love with a ghost and pines away when said "ghost" doesn't show up?

I call that neurotic. There's nothing worse than a neurotic, clingy, cry baby.

Oh, and Val, Lance's brother, who appears in all his scenes in beseeching eyes, disappointed mournful faces only to light up when his brother pats his head. Dr Freud, what's your analysis on these two men's relationship? I don't think it's healthy. Then again, what can I expect from a family of neurotic, miserable gloom-dooms?

One more damning flaw - nobody carrying XY chromosomes speaks like the guys do in this story. I turn to my husband as well as many of my straight guy friends and point out some choice conversations and asks them, "Do guys speak like that?" Then I turned to the gay friends I know and asks them too, "Do guys speak like that? Even the more feminine ones?"

Their answer? Well, it all boils down to "Maybe in another galaxy."

I don't think guys, especially guys in the era of this story, stand in the night and reminisce about playing boats in the seaside. I really don't think macho broody heroes notice their unwitting insults to their bastard friends and go, "Oh, my friend. I'm so sorry." Many conversations in this book strike me as too wordy, too carefully constructed to be spoken by men who haven't read The Rules. The males in the story behave in a manner the author believes the males do, a sanitized version where the males may act broody, but honey, they are actually women with testosterone.

The Night Drifter is definitely not my cup of tea. I like my main characters more spunky, more capable of taking care of themselves (yes, I'm talking about you, Rosalind), and wallow in less self-pity. I also like my men to speak at least a little like men in real life - no sissy "Look up to the night sky and reminisce sweet memories with another guy!" please, that's something only 21st-century guys hoping to score would do.

The Night Drifter, therefore, gets a generous 50. I'll definitely give the rest of the St Legers a miss. Life's too short to be gloomy and miserable without a good reason, really.


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