The Pretender
by Barbara Miller, historical (2002)
Sonnet, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1230-3


Talk about being completely off. Barbara Miller's The Pretender is a pleasant surprise in that it isn't an ode to witch/bitch/slut mothers/mistresses and doormat hero/heroine like her last few books, but its pace and rhythm is so wrong, it's like listening to music played at the wrong speed.

Juliet Sinclair and her siblings Harry and Ariel are desperate. A relative is happily committing - um, what do you call the murder of your own family members? That's what nasty cousin Redmond is doing, and he has worked his way through Juliet's father and Ariel's boyfriend. Now, Juliet just wants to protect Ariel by finding Ariel a husband who is reliable, daring, dashing, and will not hesitate to kill Redmond. (And yes, later Juliet will turn the hero's killing people in the past - Draco Melling is a soldier - into a point of contention between them. What can I say? Romance heroines are all dingbats.)

To do so, Juliet decides to approach the rake Draco, who is also suffering from post-war traumatic stuff. It's like asking a paraplegic to teach you to dance, but okay, romance heroines. Dingbats. Let's move on. Of course, will Juliet confide in Draco of her troubles with Redmond? Of course not. She doesn't even tell Ariel and Harry, because she wants to protect them - dingbat - so she panics when they are missing - dingbat - but she will not tell Draco even when Draco asks what is wrong - dingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingbat - so what the heck is going on?

You tell me. I don't know. After building up Redmond to be the big bad villain, Redmond just vanishes - poof! - like that. I wait for a grand finale where Redmond wrecks mayhem but no such luck. It's like listening to a meteorological report that tells me to dig a bunker deep underground and have sex with Hugh Jackman like there's no tomorrow because a gigantic tornado is coming, only to have the tornado never showing up. All my adrenaline wasted just like that. Can I sue?

So what's left? Every other page, Juliet will remind me that Redmond is evil and Redmond is nasty, but here she is with Draco, gambolling happily through early 1800s England like sedated puppies, talking about deep emotions in arch and fake-sounding dialogues. The characters are asking me to feel urgent and frantic, but here they are, merrily stumbling along in their own sweet time. What is going on here?

Since the pace is sedated and Redmond is like a distant dream, Juliet's self-sacrifice is contrived and artifical - "Stay away, Draco, and marry my sister, even though we all know that is not the thing, because I want conflict, and I want to come off like a drama queen martyr! Only, of course, I'll do it in a sedated pace that makes anesthesia look like a heart attack. Stay away! Don't come any closer!" - and Draco will say "You jump, I jump, right?" And then I push them both over the railings and yell, "You both jump, suckers! Bwahahaha!"

Oops, wrong story.

Since there is no payoff in the villain section, all of Juliet and Draco's emotional pretensions are all for nothing. The Pretender is like an action movie starring geriartics from the intensive care unit. I want to yell at them to move, do something, because isn't the Big Bad supposed to be lurking around the corner, but dang, they just won't get down to it. Man, this is Bizarro World Romance in all its glory, I tell you.

Rating: 56


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