The Scarletti Curse
by Christine Feehan, historical/paranormal (2001)
LoveSpell, $5.99, ISBN 0-505-52421-X


I know I haven't been, er, "kind" to Christine Feehan's books. If I forget that, several very vocal emails will be sure to remind me once every few months. But seriously, the author has written six books in two years, and while I admit there is a progression in quality as she goes along, the dialogs remains stilted, Cro-Magnon style, the clichés keep coming, and the heroine remains a personality-free bundle of raw nerves.

In the Carpathian-free The Scarletti Curse, the author has turned in her most polished work to date, with some decent attempt at creating a better heroine than her usual object d'submission variety, but still, the end result is more akin to an Elvira B-grade Gothic story than something I can really sink my teeth into with relish.

Nicoletta is a village healer with some supernatural healing gift that allows her to mend even usually serious wounds. She lives in a village under the shadow of the Scarletti Hall, where rumors abound about mad lecherous noble male pigs that lecher and then kill innocent virgins. The usual. Nicoletta, with the help of the obligatory local old witch, tries to keep her gift hidden from the current Don Scarletti. But one day she does her miracle act and catches Donny's eye.

Later, when a lecherous maid (aren't they all?) exposes Nicole's secret to Donny, Nicole ends up married to Donny. As she trembles and cowers from our villain/hero, as he paws her to her shivery delight, they have to break the curse. Ho hum Gothic stuff.

But really! The author lets loose all the cheap Gothic elements I can think of. Stormy nights and a hero with a fetish for black are okay, but when there's this woman who just hates, hates, hates Nicole for God knows why and even attempts to flog Nicole the moment she arrives, the story immediately flies into Tales Of The Crypt territory. The characters are pretty badly drawn, and this includes the hero and heroine. Every other man is a lecherous pig wanting Nicole's body. Every other woman is a lecherous skanky bad woman wanting Don's body and Nicole's death. Were not for the perpetually bad weather, I would have suspected I'm reading the ancestors of the Dynasty cast getting it on and about.

Nicole? Ah well, the healer. What else can she be but this one-note selfless, countrified (don't forget innocent and pure) heroine who has no idea that her buxom chest and sultry lips make her a beautiful siren. (Love her cluelessness.) She displays only one personality trait: whenever someone beckons, she drops everything, picks up her medicine box, and rushes to respond. There are some steel in her when she stares down the baddies, but when she's with Don, Don is a vampire cartoon character that sucks out all her bone marrow and whatever little personality she has and turns her into a "Yes master... please no... I'm so afraid..." Voodoo Barbie doll.

And Don? Thundery expression, emotionless, humorless, clad in black, and has been Hurt Before - can there be a hero any more tired and clichéd? Again, I have no idea what makes him tick. It's a fine act balancing a hero as villain and still make him real, and the author fails in doing that here.

Don and Nicole's relationship is like this: she cowers, he puts his hand on some wet, quivery part of her body, and she turns into Sex Diva. Repeat and rinse. Whenever Nicole and Don's relationship threatens to develop more fully - such as when Don finally opens up to her about the nature of his curse (Jealousy! Hatred! Vengeance! Thunder!) - Nicole would then feel this deep fear in her heart (or something). Fear of Don.

Let's just say I have a hard time mustering any enthusiasm for a story where the heroine behaves like a scared mangy cat when the hero's not pawing her. She does behave rather okay, if a stereotypical overzealous charitable heroine, when he's not around, but loses what's left of her few interesting traits when he's around. Reminds me of that sleep-inducing dull alien TV series Roswell (if you watch that show, I'm talking of the way the otherwise decent Tessa becomes a dull fish around that glaze-eyed bore Max).

With a setting that resembles a cheap set on an Elvira movie and two half baked characters as well as personality-deficient secondary characters, The Scarletti Curse only comes to life when it describes gory childbirth moments. Cheap thrills may be abound, but in the end, The Scarletti Curse is just a third-rate take on the captive fantasy.

Rating: 62


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