So In Love
by Karen Ranney, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82108-7


I have to hand it to Karen Ranney. This is a Big Miscommunication story (as opposed to Big Misunderstanding) and the main characters open up only late in the story. Normally I would be clutching my stomach trying not to vomit out my liver while whacking this book with a baseball bat because things can get really frustrating in So In Love. But instead, I find myself reading late into the night, rivetted by the sheer intensity of the emotions burning off the pages. This book won't be a keeper because it is too emotionally draining for me and to be honest, I feel so much better when I'm done with it than when I'm reading it and I don't think I will be rereading this book again anytime soon. But So In Love nonetheless affects me more than many books that I've read recently.

Around a decade ago, young lovers Jeanne du Marchand and Douglas MacRae have high dreams of their love overcoming any obstacle thrown their way. But when their affair results in her pregnancy and Jeanne has to tell her father about Douglas, she is banished to a convent and her child is taken from her. She waits in vain for Douglas to come rescue her. Douglas, on the hand, is led to believe that Jeanne has abandoned him. When he finds their daughter near-death under the care of some doddering peasants, he believes that the faithless hussy has not only abandoned him but left their child for death to boot.

As a result, it is not a sanguine reunion when Douglas stumbles upon Jeanne today while she is working as the governess in his business associates' household. Jeanne is trying to escape the lecherous attentions of her employer and Douglas, even if he hates her for her perceived sins on him and their daughter Margaret, takes pity on her and hires her as the governess to their daughter. He doesn't tell her that Margaret is their daughter, however.

What makes this book work is Jeanne. She is a compelling heroine in the sense that while she has her shares of weaknesses and insecurities, she is always clear-headed and strong-willed. She hasn't just been exiled to a convent - she has been ill-treated very badly to "pay" for her sins to the point that she can't help being brainwashed by her tormentor's doctrine. In this, her inability to communicate with Douglas is nearly convincing. She's strong, tough, and while she has plenty of reasons to be tormented, she never gives up or says die.

On the other hand, Douglas' unwillingness to open up to Jeanne is less credible. He's had a easy life compared to Jeanne and he seems like a sensible fellow when it comes to other matters, so it's tough for me to accept that not once in this book that he is willing to have a talk with Jeanne. His unwillingness to see that Jeanne has suffered in the past is also frustrating.

Ms Ranney writes tortured characters very well and despite the fact that one conversation would have cleared many issues between Jeanne and Douglas, she nearly manages to get me to overlook the contrivances in the story that keep the characters from talking. Jeanne is a compelling heroine I can't help but to sympathize and root for. Douglas, despite his one obstinate fault, is a good man who doesn't let his negative feelings regarding Jeanne - no matter how misguided they are - turn him into an inhuman jerk; he is willing to put aside personal feelings and help Jeanne when she needs help, for example, so in a way he's not a jerk, just a good guy who happens to have a problem with communication.

If So In Love is shorter by a hundred pages, the internal conflict would be more credible, I think. 350 pages of non-communication is way too long for any conflict of this nature to come off as real. But with two-dimensional characters so obviously aching for love and still so in love with each other despite all odds, So In Love remains a simultaneously exasperating and rivetting read. It's all in the how the author creates characters to get me to care for them, warts and all, and in this instance, Karen Ranney has done a good job indeed.

Oh, and without going into spoilers, readers that have followed the author's Highland series may be interested to know that there is a bittersweet conclusion here to the story of a couple from a previous book.

Rating: 80


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