The Promise
by May McGoldrick, historical (2001)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20449-2


The Promise lumbers out of the starting line like a clumsy, bloated, pregnant yak. Rebecca Neville, a desperate (as usual) and impoverished governess, is being ordered to meet her employer alone in the study. And the employer is not asking for Maths lessons, that you can be sure. Rebecca, in a desperate attempt to preserve her virtue, hits the lecher hard and wham! Is he dead?

Oh, oh no! She flees! Lift up your skirts and run, Becky! Behind her, the body is discovered and there are actually people shrieking, “Blood! Murder!” in italics.

”Bloody melodramatists,” I mutter to myself as I turn the page.

Becky runs into a carriage, where she is confronted with a sickly woman holding a baby. “I’m innocent!” she starts babbling.

Apparently, Becky’s innocence and purity must have shone through, because the lady soon decides to ask this babbling young woman in blood-stained dress to follow her and her baby to the Americas. In fact, when the lady expires as soon as they reach America, she asks Ms Bloodstained Gown and Confessed Murderer Rebecca to take care and raise her baby. Oh well, I guess dying sods can’t be choosy.

Then cut forward to 1770, ten years later. “Aaah!” I scream when I realize baby Jamey has turned into a high-pitched, obnoxious, irritating Shirley Temple with wee-wee. Rebecca is now a “widow” to her “son” and poor Jamey who is deaf and has a malformed hand has a hard time fitting in. He runs wild, and Rebecca puts her hand in maidenly distress to her forehead. She wants to send her “son” to Germany where she hears there’s a special school for the deaf, and her friend reasonably points out that if Rebecca can’t even have the boy out of her sight for ten minutes, how she is ever going to stand having him in Germany is beyond comprehension.

Well, I decide that they can always start an inn where Jamey here can start slicing women in the showers. Norman Bateses all have to start somewhere, and with Becky’s smothering, he’s well on his way.

Meanwhile, back in England, a slutty mistress of the Earl of Stanmore plots getting her claws on a marriage certificate. Zzzzzzz. Silly twit. Doesn’t she know that in a romance novel, if a widow wants to get married, she must clam her legs shut and start having a niece or nephew to go all martyr mode over?

The Earl of Stanmore is actually Jamey’s father. His man has found the boy at last, and now he wants Jamey back in England! Becky refuses to give Jamey up – so much for Germany, better start saving up for that motel now – and follows the crying, wailing boy to England, where Stanmore awaits.

The usual thingies ensue, where Becky will teach Stanmore that So What Those Bitches In Your Past, This Virgin’s The Pure Hot Momma and of course, what it means to love, have a family, yadda yadda yadda. However, I must say as the story progresses, Jamey stops making my skin crawl that much, Becky stops being the blanket from hell, and Stanmore isn’t so much a surly extra-PMS version of Colonel Von Trapp. They become rather decent, likeable characters.

There's also some anti-slavery subplot that proves how enlightened and 21st century our hero and heroine are. Visionaries, how I salute thee!

Unfortunately, the ending chapters has the authors (May McGoldrick is the pseudonym of two writers) taking a giant pin and bursting the balloon of the plot. Without giving away much, all I can say is that I am left gaping at the last page. That’s it? So the whole nonsense of Running to America and Becky’s The London Sound Of Music Stint would not need happen if she has just stayed low for a few weeks after the, er, murder? I don’t get it. I feel as if the authors have just bent over and released a giant cloud of gas into my face.

In fact, I feel as if I’ve wasted my time. The Promise is much ado about nothing, a plot that happens just because our heroine is skittish and can’t think straight… in fact, The Promise here is a finger to my face. I’m not angry – for a while I am entertained – as much as I feel cheated of my time following the story.

Rating: 73


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