Love's Labyrinth
by Anne Kelleher, historical/time travel (2000)
Jove (Time Passages), $5.99, ISBN 0-515-12973-9


First off, I must thank the author Anne Kelleher for not presenting me with yet another tale of neurotic weeping, mourning heroine being sent back in time to fall in love with the dead man whom she has loved ever since she saw his portrait in her dead aunt's library (the same aunt whom she is now mourning bitterly, eek eek eek) or some minor variation in that overdone theme - thank you, thank you, thank you!

Okay, so Olivia Lindsley is eeking over the death of her father whom she is mourning to bits, but still, there are many other things to keep me from reaching saturation point, buying a scissors, and taking some romance novels hostage. Love's Labyrinth at least tries to present a more unconventional romance in its secondary characters' sparking, and it's also pretty well-written to keep me hanging on.

Two best friends, Olivia Lindsley and Alison O'Neill, are attending a masquerade-cum-tour in Talcott Forest. Actually Olivia is a brilliant historian who, like all good romance heroines, can't do anything on her own initiative except to Make Her Dead Daddy Proud by Continuing His Research on the Talcott lineage.

Okay, okay, I will stop picking on Olivia. For now.

Olivia is spooked when she sees a portrait of Lord Nicholas Talcott of yore's wife. It looks just like... her! Later, when she and Allie walk through the Talcott Maze in full Elizabethan regalia, they comes out in - ta-da! 1586 London.

What happens is that Geoffrey Talcott, the bumbling nerd - who, given the right script, will be a mad scientist - has accidentally brought the ladies here. He wants to go to the future, not bringing people from the future. As the ladies and he gape at each other, whoops, here comes Queen Elizabeth with her entourage...

What happens next is pretty silly when I think about it. Nicholas Talcott, the conventional arrogant/aloof/macho/rich (okay, formerly wealthy) Elizabethan nobleman (AKA Instant Romance Hero Formula #1), decides that the gasping believer Olivia will do to pose as his wife in settling some Court Intrigue Matters. Olivia complies, and they leave the skeptical and cynical Allie in the competent (ahem) care of gasping believer Geoffrey Talcott.

Guess which couple I root for. Skeptic Allie and believer Geoffrey make a delightful couple, and their slow relationship (the resolution is only hinted at by the epilogue) keeps me hanging word by word. Geoffrey is a delightfully bumbling, shy nerd who manages to shine when the time is right, startling Allie - and me - at unexpected moments.

But Olivia and Nicholas? Readers looking for the same old arrogant-powerful-uber-alphahunk and goody-two-shoes-heroine will have fun here. Their romance unfurls just like it should, rather nicely, but not very interesting really. After all, they are pretty typical characters, and I am at a point where I am pretty tired of the repetition.

So Love's Labyrinth is a nice balance. Members of the Nerd Appreciation Club can drool over Geoffrey, while those still can't get enough of the Macho, Arrogant Nobleman Hero can help themselves to Nicholas. It's a pretty 50-50 thing, but to give the author credit, she writes pretty well. I don't find myself skipping the pages where Nicky and Livvy take the limelight. Now, if only those pages make me sigh in pleasure instead of resignation ("Yet another one of those..."), really.

And I have to do this. I want to pick on Olivia. This woman is annoying. For a professed contemporary professional, she is rather sad. She works as a research assistant to her father, then she carried on with his research, only to give it all up to be Nicky's wife. I would have been more amenable to such feminist-enraging behavior if Olivia hasn't made so much lip service on wanting to be an actress and following her dreams in the first place. Why not just come out and say, "I wanna be a wife because I have difficulties functioning in an environment devoid of Daddy figures"?

Rating: 72


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