Gambler's Daughter
by Ruth Owen, historical (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57742-5


I wasn't too impressed with the few Loveswepts I've read by Ruth Owen, but her debut historical blows me away.

It's a story about a fake heiress. Sabrina Murphy is trapped in a melodramatic Cinderella-situation where her stepmother abets her son to rape her and force her into marriage with him. Sabrina ends up thinking she has murdered that man and flees to her late father's old partner-in-crime Quinn for help. Quinn has her masquerading as the long-lost heiress to the Trevelyan fortune and soon she is knee-deep in deception. Trouble is, she begins to like her new family and is soon attracted to Lord Edward, who happens to stubbornly not believe her. Soon she is torn between her own security and guilt on lying to the family she begins to care so much about.

Part of my enjoyment of this story is how Ms Owen continues to prove me wrong. I started this book smugly deciding this must be another rehash of the long-heiress-pretender-who-turns-out-to-be-the-real-thing-and-gets-the-eldest-son story. But no, Ms Owen makes me eat my words and blush over my own arrogance. She is very good at what she does here.

Sabrina, despite a really melodramatic huh-inducing start, slowly transforms into a woman of strength. She finds in the Trevelyan a family she has always wanted and never known of, and I admire her for wanting to tell them the truth. Trouble is, she can't, for it's the gallows for her if she tells the truth. The author turns her into a wimpy shadow of herself in the annoying (but mercifully brief) Big Misunderstanding thing at the end, but thankfully Sabrina soon re-exerts herself.

Edward is a bit more difficult a character to like. He starts out all grunts, bellows, shouts, and bad temper he seems more like a caricature of Heathcliff than a real person. He alternates between being cruel and cold and being kind to Sabrina he becomes a confusing character, not really gelling in all his mood swings. And he seems way too tortured for the big secret he holds, and when that is revealed, I feel so cheated. All his misery and bitterness for...this? It makes him look like a can't-get-over-it-need-therapy oaf. But eventually he too shapes up nicely that by the end I am rooting for he and Sabrina.

This book has some flaws, of course. Sabrina's charade takes place way too smoothly, and she knows things that that she really shouldn't - couldn't - possibly know. And like I've mentioned, Edward could have been better developed.

But all in all, this is a good book. A fresh and original story that, after a few bad books in a row, feels like a welcome breeze of fresh air. Write faster Ms Owen, I want to read more.

Rating: 66


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