Silk And Steel
by Kat Martin, historical (2000)
St Martin's, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-97281-4


Kat Martin's books I find are usually uneven in quality, from cringe-worthy to passable, but never once did her books ever hit the right chord in me. I'm always hoping, of course, because this author's writing is undeniably good. Silk And Steel, her latest, is one of her better ones, but then again, it doesn't set my fizzies on fire either. It starts out great but fizzles into a whimper half way down the road, no thanks to its predictability.

The plot is something that my husband would call Drama Mama - poor genteel and innocent Lady Kathryn Grayson inherits a great fortune from her parents, but her nasty guardian and uncle manages to get her cast in a madhouse. Kathryn wants to be a doctor, which, it seems, is grounds enough for madness, especially when poor Kathryn is discovered at an autopsy with the local doctor. Mad noblewoman cuts open dead bodies!

Kathryn manages to flee and seeks sanctuary in the carriage of Lucien Montaine, the Marquess of Litchfield. He doesn't believe her at first, but lets her stay in his place. Oh, and she's gorgeous, much more smart and pretty than Lucien's fiancee Allison. Uh oh. Trouble.

Actually at this point there's a plot development that's meant, I'm sure, to be a surprise, but the back blurb gives it away. Too bad - it strips the story away from its sole unpredictable element. Kathryn is sent back to the asylum for more abuse, but is rescued by Lucien. While Lucien wrangs it out through mires of redtape to save her, she takes matters into her own hands. She seduces Lucien and arranges for them to be found the morning after.

Here, I pause in my reading and write down what I feel will happen for the next 200 pages in a separate piece of paper. Oh dear - I am right eight out of ten times, and one mistake is because Lucien tries to boink someone other than Kathryn twice - in vain - to get rid of his Kathryn blues instead of once like I predicted. The communication problems, the evil guardian, the other woman's hysterics, the wise sidekicks... they're all here, right to the grand Rescue Finale.

Ms Martin's technique is almost faultless, but why this clearly accomplished author would turn complacent and churn out a book with so many elements of deja vu is beyond me. Lucien is the usual stock Regency nobleman - Placid brown cow wives, please, while Kathryn, despite her interest in medicine, is basically a Damsel In Distress with little other memorable trait. Sure, the author succeeds in potraying Kathryn's desperation and fear, but she also falters in addressing them: whenever the two lead characters need to actually sit down and talk, they end up making love or harrying off to settle some external conflict instead. No wonder communication breaks down for so long. After so long a miscommunication between them, there's only so much making-love-then-sulking-again-the-morning-after I can take without wanting to hit them both in the head with my rolling pin.

Sometimes Rescuing Damsel In Distress does not equal Grand Passionate Romance. It's the quiet moments of bonding and intimacy that counts, and this book is trifle short in both departments.

Even more disquieting is the whole tone of the story. It takes two to tango, I always say: Kathryn's trap for Lucien wouldn't have worked if what is offered by one isn't taken by other. In his self-righteous anger in being "trapped", not once in the story does Lucien ever realize that the fault is partially his. Instead, Kathryn is the one who has to go onto her knees in a figurative bed of broken glass to get Lucien to treat her with some semblence of decency. Despite her purported intelligence, Kathryn is helpless in the face of her lover's often illogical judgements on her, and instead of correcting them, Kathryn spends her time worrying and dithering over Lucien seeking out other women, Lucien not wanting her, yadda yadda yadda. Even after she has decided to stop beating her head against the wall for Lucien's attention. Irritating, this woman. My usually flexible feminist instincts are actually offended by her passive Bring All Blame And Guilt And Place It On Me attitude.

Even more, more, more, and definitely more disturbing is the way the story holds the women accountable for the men's slip up in a moment of testosterone Chernobyl. Lucien's unaccountability in the "Trap", for one. And two, when Lucien asks Velvet, his best friend Jason's wife, "If Jason had been found in a passionate embrace with a half-naked woman, would you have forgiven him?"

Her answer? "It would have been hard. My pride would not have wanted me to do so, but I might have, if I had believed it was me he truly loved and not her."

She's too generous. I guess that's why she was a heroine in her own book. Me, I'd probably get arrested by the police after I'm done with that scumbag.

When I closed the book, I wonder if I'm taking this book tad bit too seriously. Then I saw on TV the music video of this two sweet girls called M2M singing, "Don't say you love me, you don't even know me. If you really want me, then give me some time!" And these women shove off their persistent boyfriends. Then I look back at Kathryn, poor Kathryn, who tries to tell Lucien off only to succumb to Lucien's masterful lovemaking the moment she tries to speak.

Nah, I shouldn't take this book seriously. Which is why I'll just say this book is a disappointment, put it aside, take my pills, and go dancing. "Don't say you love me, you don't even know me..."

Rating: 68


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