The Impostor
by Elaine Fox, historical/time-travel (1999)
Leisure, $5.50, ISBN 0-8439-4523-0


I have no idea whether to applaud Miss Fox for the audacity of making a first-class snob as a heroine or questioning her judgment. The Impostor has a rather likable hero, but the heroine Melisande St. Clair makes me want to throttle her.

Flynn Patrick is attending a distant relative's wedding, and his girlfriend is harping on him to get married. During the party, he falls into a fountain and when he resurfaces, he's no longer in 1998.

In 1815, Melisande St. Clair is fighting more than bridal jitters - she is being wed to a man she hardly knows. The author makes her case of fear genuine and terrifying: a sheltered, pampered girl, Melisande is being cast into the hands of a man rumors whisper that is cruel beyond bounds. Her parents, her mother in particular, keep crowing what an honor Mel is being bestowed by Lord Bellingham, catch of the Season. Everyone around her acts as if the rumors don't exist, and Mel's fears are slowly rising to a fevered pitch, especially after a servant girl confides that Bellingham may have driven a servant girl to her death for refusing his advances. When Bellingham makes advances that terrifies her, she panics. The last straw is witnessing her future husband seducing another woman in her betrothal ball. She packs her bags and flees.

She bumps into Flynn, who then helps her flee to London.

Here is where the book really falls apart. The author makes a complete turnabout in Mel's character and makes her a spoiled petulant woman who suddenly decides that she'd rather marry that Bellingham than to live in disgrace. She treats Flynn like a servant. She knows she is traveling under disguise but whines when she is given less than stellar sleeping accommodations. When she lost all her money and refuses to tell Flynn, I know she's a lost cause. When she reaches London and is forced to marry Flynn to save her reputation, she balks - he's a nobody, and he is probably after her fortune all along! Does this silly girl think the world revolves around her?

It's amusing that when Flynn is discovered to be the long-lost heir of the Duke of Merestun, Mel suddenly realizes what a good man her hubby is and decides to be a good wife. I don't think this is the author's intention, but Mel's affections - if sincere - has awful timing. When invitations start pouring in, when she's finally a titled woman again, and then she professes undying love to Flynn - excuse me, but I don't buy it one bit.

Then there's Flynn. A 20th century 30-something man marrying a 19 year old? Without reservations? Never heard of the term barely jailbait, have you, Flynn? Flynn's a rather okay hero, despite his wishy-washy characterization, but really, a thirtysomething man attracted to a nineteen-year old whiny, petulant girl? Yucks.

The Impostor has some good things going for it: wonderful writing, and some deft plot twists. Characterization is hollow, however, and in a romance, that's a rather fatal flaw.

Rating: 66


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