by Peggy Waide, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5022-6
The fun in A Rogue's Promise takes some time in kicking in. At first, Joanna Fenton looks like she's going to be the new poster girl for rape and murder victims everywhere. Accompanied by a short stereotypical "Ah so!" Chinaman servant, unarmed, not even with a sharp parasol, she pokes her head in seedy taverns, pawnshops, and other fun places filled with unstable and violent men and offer them a hundred pounds for vague "services". A hundred pounds which she later reveals she will pay only after the quest has been attained. I can just imagine the pleasant reception she will receive from those men.
Lucky for her she finds the man she is looking for - your friendly smuggler and privateer or whatever you call those "honorable thieves", MacDonald Archer. See, Joanna needs a hero. Her brother is missing along with a dragon statue called Lung Wang San, and she wants Mac to help him find them both.
Incidentally, I tried to decipher what Lung Wang Sun is, and the closest I can come up with is that Lung Wang Sun is Cantonese for "Dragon Yellow Mountain", and that doesn't make sense at all. If we are talking about Yellow Mountain Dragon, it should then be (roughly) Wong San Long. Maybe something got lost in the translation, never mind.
Then comes Joanna's really oblivious mother that only the most patient daughter can stand without shipping that irritating baggage to a sweatshop in East Timor. Meanwhile, in comes the assortment of the usual characters - the hero's secret boyfriend, the useless brother of the heroine who should be shipped off to a Thai male brothel if you ask me, and other fun bags and gags. It really doesn't seem promising, A Rogue's Promise, especially when Joanna claims around twenty pages after seeing Mac for the first time how the man makes her yearn for babies and family. The babies thing I understand, but family? Lady, you just met that man, and when you met him, he was fresh from a brawl. Go get a brain scan, put the tab on me.
Then something happens midway through the story. Stupid Joanna is replaced by a brainy Joanna, and I gape in shock as she actually becomes an asset to Mac's investigations rather than a burden. She makes a few funnies, and she proves that she can hold her own in a spot of trouble. Mac, a stereotypical been-hurt-before rogue, becomes her decent boyfriend, and even a contrived marriage of necessity thing can't dim their wonderful repartee together. The chemistry flares bright.
For a moment there I thought I was having a senile moment and have somehow read a different book without noticing it. Let me check - no, it's still A Rogue's Promise. The funny, romantic, and nice parts bear no continuity to the stupid parts, but I'm not complaining. I'm desperate enough to take what fun I can get out of this book after the recent spell of lousy romances coming my way.
The mystery is predictable and actually fizzles out towards the end, but at the same time, I find myself liking Mac and Joanna more and more. Those two are so funny and sweet together, really, and I always appreciate two allies working together even as they fall in love with each other. "I swore I will never set foot on a ship ever again," Joanna tells Mac at the end, "but for you, I would sail around the world."
A Rogue's Promise is a pleasure to read once the brainpower kicks into high gear, the two main characters' amazing chemistry salvaging the pedestrian mystery and stock secondary characters. It is too bad Ms Waide starts this book most shakily, because otherwise this book may just be a keeper.
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