The Fifth Daughter
by Elaine Coffman, historical (2001)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-842-4


You know, hell has no fury like the romance reader given the unexpected in her story. Elaine Coffman's The Fifth Daughter isn't your usual "boy meets girl, silly sex, then he saves her" thing. The hero Percival Bronwell and the heroine Maresa Fairweather spend around 90% of the story apart that the romance is pretty eh. I have a feeling this book will make many a dent in many readers' wall.

But I like Maresa. She doesn't reek of girlishness, she isn't stupid, and if she's self-centered, well, at least she has the brainpower to be self-centered. Maresa is born unlucky. I say unlucky because her son-mad father let his wife die in childbirth for his "son". A gypsy told Daddy Dumbass that he would get a son, after all. Too bad, he gets Maresa. As a result, Daddy Dumbass pretty much disowns Maresa in all but name only.

Maresa grows up - this is like, what, quarter of the story? - under the care of some poor auntie. She blooms from a bullied-all-over "cursed" girl to a super gorgeous babe who just can't help breaking engagements left and right. I'm told she's a flirt, but somehow, the author conveniently forgets to show Maresa flirting. Oh well.

Maresa has a best friend, Percy, who was kind to her when she was a girl being bullied. But don't worry, no girly-forever love here. They become friends. Percy soon grow to love her, but alas, there is always an excuse for them to be oceans apart. Napoleon (Percy is a soldier), Maresa going to Italy to befriend her "Eh, we are the Sopranos crossed with the Dotties" relatives, blah blah blah.

That's it. The marriage of convenience thing described at the back cover takes place in around the last quarter of the story. Percy and Maresa interact only through letters or the occasional meeting before one of them sweeps out of the country again.

But still, for a book filled with endless parties, chit-chats, and inconsequential happenings, I don't feel bored at all. Maresa is quite a charming lady, I find, and her insecurities are real. Heck, if I'm born neglected by my family, I'd probably be self-centered too. Maresa's self-centeredness has no malicious intention behind it, and I really like her no-bullcrap attitude towards her Daddy Dumbass. No prolonged pining here - she has done all she could, and it's all in Daddy Dumbass' ballpark now. If he doesn't recipocrate, she'll be sad, but she will not waste her life pining for the love of a jackass. I like that.

Percy is a more amorphous character, fleshed only in nice letters that make him seem like a boring, white-bread Mr Perfect. But his letters to Maresa have a charming allure to them, and really, he's not too bad.

Only towards the late quarter of the story, when the romance becomes more prominent - and routine - do I feel the yawning coming on.

For a while, The Fifth Daughter is a sweet - sometimes too sweet - story of a woman's coming of age. Even if the romance is meagre, I find enough charming traits about the heroine to keep me reading. So despite the routine rehash of the last leg of the story, I kind of like this book. I'm sure many readers will throw this book against the wall, but hey, I quite like it. It's nice to get away from girly martyr heroines for a while, you know?

Rating: 81


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