The Secret Swan
by Shana Abé, historical (2001)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58200-3

Ever read a book where it becomes blatantly obvious that the author is trying to wring every atom of sentimentality out of every word she writes? Read The Secret Swan, Shana Abé's biggest blunder since her debut A Rose In Winter. The author is so caught up in creating lovelorn imageries that she forgets the crux of a good romance novel: relationship development.

Indeed, she seems to expect me to accept at face value that heroine Amiranth St Clare loves Tristan Geriant and he her and be content to sniff and weep at her calculated scenes. No dice here, sorry.

Amiranth was in love with her new hubby Tristan eight years ago. He, however, shattered her illusions when he dumped her in some backward hovel holding of his and headed off to join some war in France. Not before he thoroughly cut down her ego. Now, eight years later, Tristan is back and finds his estates destroyed after the Black Death plague. He finds his wife dead and in her place is her cousin Lily.

Actually, Lily is Amiranth. Lily's the one who died. Amiranth takes her identity to prevent her liege from marrying her off again. Tristan has been languishing as a war prisoner all these years, while Amiranth thought him dead. Can they find love again?

Or more importantly, do I care? Not really. The author doesn't even bother to show me why Tristan is worth her tears and heartaches all this year. As a young lad, he was an arrogant, thoughtless boor. Now, he is an arrogant, thoughtless boor. Amiranth's great love is an extrapolation of her childhood crush. Really? Can a childhood crush survive eight years of loneliness and abandonment? Or is love some sort of curse - once you had it, it'd be an itch you couldn't scratch off, I presume?

This type of story requires Tristan and Amiranth to talk often. But the author instead sweeps these characters in a calculated epic story of Trials and Tribulations of Two People Supposedly In Love. Bad people pop up to cause trouble out of nowhere, which only have Tristan shouting in melodramatic heroism as Amiranth swoons in an artistic poise. Indeed, in this story, people just don't talk. They find a perfect setting - probably in a ruins where sunlight falls through the cracks of the roof to highlight their beauty artfully, and then Tristan will try to talk - manfully, poised. Yet when he opens his mouth, Amiranth would feel this weakening, and oh - she falls! "Noooo!" Tristan would yell, and dash slow mo to her side.

Very beautiful. But without any attempt to make their relationship convincing, these two come off as calculated in their dramatic posturings. Amiranth and Tristan's supposedly grand love is set at the highest parameter on the Sob-o-rama from page one and all that's left is empty, hollow, if beautiful, scenes of artful weeping and carefully premeditated postures. It's nice, but with no substance, it leaves me far from satisfied.

Rating: 54

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