The authors of the April Moon anthology have taken upon themselves a real challenge. Not only are they writing romances in short form – always a difficult feat – but each novella takes place over the course of one single night. Do you doubt that three convincing love stories can happen, all under the full moon in April, 1803? Read on.
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- by Susan King
Grade : B- Sensuality : N/A
Susan King's White Fire takes place on the Scottish side of the Solway Firth, where apparently smuggling is rife. It seems that inveterate whiskey-maker and smuggler Jock Colvin once had a young friend and protégé named Simon Lockhart. Simon was in love with Jock's lovely young daughter, Jenny. Four years ago Simon vanished along with an expensive shipment of whiskey, breaking Jenny's heart. Now Simon is back - he has been appointed as an excise-man by the crown. His job is to stop the smugglers. His first stop is to see Jock, who is in prison and will soon be hanged for horse-stealing. Simon quickly discovers that neither Jock nor his beloved Jenny has forgiven him.
The romance between Simon and Jenny is tender and touching; they still love each other in spite of everything, but Jenny cannot trust Simon not to betray her again. I liked both the feisty Jenny and the devoted and honorable Simon. The author ably captures the scents and sounds of Scotland, and makes especially good use of the device that links all these stories - the full moon, whose light bathes Simon and Jenny's love.
However, this story is a little slower than it should be. Jenny and Simon spend too much time wandering in the dark in the caves of the Solway: she searching for her father's stolen whiskey, he trying to figure out what she's up to. The plot becomes very involved in the machinations of a rival group of smugglers, who stole Jock's whiskey and framed him for the capital crime of horse-stealing. For no real reason, except to prolong the conflict, Simon refuses to tell Jenny why he left her four years ago. This makes his motives extremely obscure, and it's hard to get to know him.
The result of all these things is that this story, while extremely atmospheric and beautifully written, is just a tiny bit boring. I think that King is a very talented writer with a great gift for descriptive prose, but this is the second thing by her I've read that I thought needed a tighter plot.
The Devil's Own Moon
- by Miranda Jarrett
Grade : B Sensuality : N/A
The Devil's Own Moon by Miranda Jarrett takes a totally different tack; it's a romp. We meet a bored and self-destructive nobleman, Harry Burton, the Earl of Atherwall, as he gets ready to dress up as a highwayman and hijack a coach. This is dangerous and stupid, but you see, ever since he lost Sophie, Harry hasn't really cared whether he lives or dies. Harry and Sophie grew up as inseparable friends and became teenaged lovers, but ten years earlier Sophie refused to marry him because she was a mere vicar's daughter. On this April night, Harry holds up a coach which contains Sophie, on her way from one dreary governess job to another. Harry's highwayman routine frightens off the coachman with the coach (I always wondered exactly what became of them - and what does the coachman say to his boss when he arrives without Sophie? We never know). Sophie must travel to Winchester to take her new job in the morning, and has no one to escort her but Harry.
This story is charming and funny. The author does an especially good job of showing that Sophie and Harry are very old friends indeed - like most old friends, they immediately fall into a familiar witty banter. One can really see the affection that lies beneath their frustration with one another. But there's just not quite enough conflict here, and what there is is driven entirely by Sophie's unreasoning stubbornness. By the end of the story, Sophie and Harry have declared their eternal love for one another, her reputation is in tatters, and she might be pregnant - and she still thinks he isn't going to marry her. For crying out loud, girl. This is an entertaining but slightly frustrating read.
- by Merline Lovelace
Grade : A Sensuality : N/A
Sailor's Moon by Merline Lovelace tells the story of Lady Sarah Stanton, who is in a nasty predicament. Sarah's beauty and her spirit set society on its ear when she was a young debutante. As a bored wife, her antics pushed the line of acceptable behavior; as a merry widow, she was downright scandalous. Deep in debt and with her reputation in shreds, she accepted the proposal of Captain Sir James Lowell. Now aboard his ship and sailing for her new home in the West Indies, Sarah sees that she has made a serious mistake: Sir James, her fiancé, is a vicious, sadistic brute, and she is in his power.
Until, that is, the ship is boarded by a dashing American captain, Richard Blake, who has a bone to pick with Sir James. For a while it looks like these two powerful men might destroy Sarah between them - but Richard is a man of deep honor, and he has a creative problem-solving side that serves him well.
I just loved this story. A beautiful lady rescued from her degenerate captor by a laughing, decent American man - well, what's there for a Yankee girl not to like? Sarah seemed very real and very sympathetic to me. I appreciated the fact that she'd lived a full life before this book opened, and that it had given her strengths as well as regrets. Sir James is appropriately revolting without quite crossing the line into mustache-twirling caricature, and the resourceful Richard is certainly a hero to remember. Add a dash of history - this shows some of the events leading to the outbreak of the War of 1812 - and you've got a great story.
There's one title mistake, and the name of the story unfortunately reminds me of the ultra-weird anime called Sailor Moon. Other than that, my only complaint is that I wanted more.