I don’t know what’s worse – a book that starts out badly and stays bad or book that starts out terrific and goes down hill. Emerald falls under the latter category; this book starts out wonderfully, right in the heart of the action with a chase scene. It even manages to keep the momentum going for the first hundred and fifty pages or so, and then it just sort of fizzles. What a disappointment!
The story opens with Jason Chase, Marquess of Cainewood, chasing a man through the streets of Chichester, England in hopes of bringing him to justice for his crimes. Only everything goes awry; instead of catching the villain, Geoffrey Gothard, Jason accidentally murders an innocent man and is wounded by Gothard as he makes his escape. As soon as Jason is well enough he sets off in search of Gothard, more determined than ever to bring him to justice and to discover the source of Gothard’s cryptic comment about Jason being his enemy. He also wants to discover the identity of the man he accidentally murdered.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Caithren Leslie learns that if she fails to marry in one year she will forfeit her family’s estate to her wastrel of a brother, Adam. Left with little choice, Cait goes to England to find her brother and get him to sign over his rights to the estate, because she has vowed never to marry and give power over what is hers to any man. Cait’s search for her brother causes her to cross paths with Jason. He mistakes her for a famous Scottish bounty hunter, Emerald MacCallum, because she’s wearing breeches, carrying a gun, and confronting Gothard when he finds her. Worried for Cait’s safety and not believing she’s not the famed female bounty hunter after the reward for Gothard’s capture, Jason tricks her into missing the public coach to London and forces her to travel with him. Cait worries that she’ll not make it to London in time to get her brother’s signature before he leaves for India, so she tries to get away from Jason – to no avail. During their travels their contempt for each other turns into a passion they try to fight because they’re afraid it won’t last.
In the beginning I really liked these characters. I found Cait’s sense of practicality and independence refreshing. She had a habit of quoting Scottish sayings for each situation that was endearing. Eventually, however, the sayings became annoying and the need for independence sounded whiny. Jason’s best trait was his sense of responsibility for those around him. He became the head of his family while only in his teens and he takes his duty seriously. But that sense of needing to take care of everyone started to come across as controlling, especially when, for all practical purposes, he kidnapped Cait. Also Jason’s stubborn belief that Cait was Emerald – to the point where he refused to call her by her name, even when given evidence to contrary – made me wonder about his intelligence.
My biggest peeve with the book? These two people are known for their sense of practicality and responsibility, yet the first time the consummate their relationship they do it outside, on the rough ground, during a terrible thunderstorm. Now I’m not a highly experienced person, but I do not think any woman would want her first time under these conditions, when there is a nice cozy bed indoors nearby. Maybe this was a one-time thing brought on by their suppressed passion? Wrong. On the verge of confronting Gothard they take time out from their search to attend a ball (this itself doesn’t make sense) and start making out in a public garden with other party guests around. They end up finishing the act in a carriage. It’s these sort of inconsistencies/implausibilities that brought down the quality of the book.
Unfortunately, the book never did regain its early promise. Everything was wrapped up in a confusing action sequence that had everyone running all over London ,and the final chapter seemed like a tedious epilogue that only needed to be a page or two (though from the author’s note it apparently sets up a short story due out in spring). The promising beginning of Emerald convinced me that Ms. Royal has talent. If she finds her stride she has it in her to write a truly wonderful historical. Sadly, Emerald was not that book.