Once Forbidden
by Terri Brisbin, historical (2002)
Jove (Highland Fling), $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13179-2

What a boring book. I've never read a book like this in quite a while, where the author spends so much time building up her story for a Big, Important Climax, only to have that climax peter out in a way that screams, "Deus ex machina!" in three hundred different languages.

More importantly, it has a bad guy named Sandy. Come on, Sandy? Nice name, but I keep thinking of bubble perms and garish pink lipsticks. I don't know why. I'm weird, I know.

Sandy is the evil hubby of Anice McNab. He rapes Anice, beats her, generally does a Mike Tyson on that poor woman, and now Anice is on the run to her father-in-law for help. Her father-in-law kicks Sandy out of the country, and Anice now lives a life of quiet solitude, doing nothing but - yup, you guessed it - healing sick people left, right, up, down, and center. She's also pregnant, and when tending the sick steward and baking that bun in her oven gets too hectic, daddy-in-law sends his bastard son to play the prince charming in Anice's rescue fantasy.

Anice, however, is traumatized. No men will touch her again. On the other hand, bastard son Robert has no idea why Anice is so afraid - and naturally, nobody will tell him why. And oh yeah, Sandy is coming back. Sandy is coming ba-aaaccckkk! Bwahahahaha evil gruesome laughter booms in the air, and Anice screams as she clings on to Robert for safety.

Sandy is coming back. This is why Robert must take care of Anice. This is why Anice must take desperate measures to make sure that her baby will be safe. She can't trust a man again... right? Sandy will come back, right? Sandy will get a boxing contract soon, right?

Sandy never shows up in the end. It's a cop-out, a deus ex machina that in one single swoop, solves everybody's problem. This is like reading about a story where poor Dick Whittington and his cat try so hard to kill all the rats in town only to have the Pied Piper turn up out of the blue, drive away all the rats, and then kindly lets Dick claim all the credit, following which Cher takes in Dick to be her toyboy and they live happily ever after. Good for Cher and Dick, and Anice and Robert in this instance, but that doesn't mean this waste-of-time story is any good.

Doormat heroine, stock hero, stock plot, that I can take. But give me a deus ex machina and watch me make paper mincemeat mache out of the book. There's nothing uglier than Mrs Giggles who feels cheated and wants the two hours of her life back.

Rating: 49

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