by Jeane Westin, historical (2006)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21736-5
Jeane Westin's debut historical romance Lady Anne's Dangerous Man is quite unusual in the current historical romance scene because it is set in England during the period known as the Restoration. Of course, while the scenery is somewhat different, being that this one seems to be a take on the whole Robin Hood and Maid Marian kind of thing, the characters are recognizable archetypes so this one isn't that different.
Lady Anne Gascoigne is a rarity of sorts in the court of King Charles II: she is 23 and a virgin. As a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, she attracts the lecherous attention of King Charles II. She seems to have found a knight in shining armor in the charming Lord Waverby who woos and eventually becomes her fiancé as the man seems to love her and also divert King Charles II's attention from her. She can't wait to experience it with Lord Waverby - but after she's married, of course, because she promised her mother to be chaste until her wedding night - until one day she happens to overhear her fiancé plotting with King Charles II. Oh no, Lord Waverby is actually plotting to seduce her and offer her virtue to King Charles II in exchange for the king's favor! What is a woman to do?
Run back to her judge father who decides to send her off in hiding while he sets in motion the process to call off her wedding to Lord Waverby. To do this, her father decides that the only thing to do is to pardon a man sentenced to hang and make him escort Anne to someplace safe. There is a convoluted "I can see you are a good man!" reasoning on Sir Samuel's part to make this plan come off as sensible instead of halfway insane but it doesn't work and I won't bother going into it. This man is John Gilbert, the illegitimate son of a nobleman who leads a community of highwaymen and social misfits in Whittlewood Forest. John, or "Gentleman Johnny" as he is known, is a busy man because not only is he a wise administrator of the Whittlewood Forest community, he is also a busy highwayman, lover of women, and occasional actor on stage. How does this man ever find time to sleep?
Anne finds herself playing the Maid Marian role in this community. Naturally, she and John also make eyes at each other, but with her enemies and John's all out to ruin the Robin Hood fantasy of these people, it is not going to be an idyllic journey to a happily ever after.
Despite the fact that John is a little too over-the-top as this dashing fellow who can and has apparently done everything but act in a sequel to Pirates Of The Caribbean, he is a charming fellow with a rakish manner in his speech that makes him a quite memorable. But there is little depth underneath the flashy exterior, unfortunately. Anne is a more problematic character as the author isn't above using her heroine as a plot device to create conflicts. Anne starts out pretty promising as a heroine who actually has a sex drive, but once she learns of Lord Waverby's deception, she mutates to a one-dimensional bratty character. Anne can be quite an annoying character because this is a character who is stupid enough to actually sabotage the hero's efforts to keep her safe. For example, the hero asks her to pretend to be his moll in order to protect her from the lecherous attention of another highwayman but Anne will refuse and continue to behave in ways that worsen the situation until the hero has to forcefully step in for that obligatory "Oh! He stole a kiss! And more!" scene. Anne sometimes displays a rare moment of common sense but on the whole her characterization is erratic.
Still, Ms Westin manages to create a briskly paced and surprisingly enjoyable story despite my reservations about the storyline and the rather one-dimensional characters. That doesn't mean that I think this book is a keeper or anything, that merely makes this book a very readable kind of ho-hum story. Ms Westin can tell an engaging story, I believe, since I find this story most readable despite my problems with it. Therefore, it seems a waste that all that Restoration England scenery is wasted on a story featuring lackluster characters.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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