The Black Angel
by Barbara Samuel, historical (1999)
Harper, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-101389-7


This book starts with a bang. Lady Adriana St Ives realizes too late the extent of her folly of getting seduced by a rake when she appears too late to stop her brothers from putting a bullet through that cad. Hence her brothers Gabriel and Julian are forced to flee England, leaving Riana and her sisters.

Now, Riana is about to wed a mysterious Irishman Tynan Spenser. He will get a seat in the parliament using her name and title, and her family a desperately-needed influx of cash. Their marriage gets off on a wrong foot, and there are always Tynan's Big Secret and attempts to rescue Riana's brothers from prosecution. But you know what? This book bores me.

Shocking really. Barbara Samuel is a wonderful writer, as evident in masterpieces like Heart Of A Knight. However, this book seems to be in perpetual simmer mode, never ever reaching boiling point. The author builds up so many expectations with references to Tynan's Big Secret, but when it is revealed, it is a limpie. Boring.

The author also lets out information like a blocked drip duct - trickle by trickle until it drives me nuts. This book has 362 pages. Tynan's Big Secret is finally hinted at in page 277. It is finally revealed in page 342. 341 pages of slow simmer that after a while, I feel as exasperated as Riana. The men all know the Big Secret, I'm told repeatedly, but they won't tell me or Riana, answering our questions with pained looks instead. Riana stops asking after a while, I guess it's because of exhaustion. Me, I stop caring.

Because I don't know Tynan's Big Secret until very, very late of the book, I have a hard time accepting his vague and sometimes contradictory behavior towards Riana. "Adriana, I will tell you my secret," he says, and I lean forward eagerly. Riana replies, "No, not when I'm feeling this way!" The sound of gagging you hear is made by me.

It's the same with Riana. Why on earth did she choose an oily rake to be her lover is never explained until middle of the book. Hence I have no idea what makes her tick. Since I can't click with either Riana or Tynan, I end up feeling like a nosey observer, a voyeuristic biddy next door spying on them through my binoculars and bugging devices.

When the Big Secrets are all finally revealed at the last pages, when all cards are finally down, I think back on the until-then inexplicable behaviors of these two characters. Oh, so that's why she did this and he did that! I would go, and then look at the book in irritation. Why couldn't I be told earlier? It's not as if Tynan has murdered the Prince of Prussia or is Napoleon in disguise or any big revelations of any sort. Hence, bah humbug.

This book does have some saving graces - Riana's railing at the double standards of her society is well done, so well done indeed that I feel her pain. But then again, it's not enough to overcome the Why? Why? Why? Why, for goodness sake? that keep distracting me through the whole book. Why indeed.

Rating: 40


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