Manon starts out with an oft-used premise: the heroine disguised as a boy. It manages to plod along in predictable fashion for about a third of the book – until the hero discovers the heroine’s gender. At this point the book goes from ho-hum to bad, descending into incomprehensible writing and plotting that is alternately boring and bizarre.
Manon DeMille flees Scotland after the death of her brothers at Culloden. She is dressed as a man, and she has a list of men who were loyal to the Stuart Prince that she is supposed to put in the hands of a friend, Roland Cameaux. (Why he needs this list after the Scots were routed at Culloden is never answered.) On the way to search for Roland in London, she saves a nobleman from highwaymen, and the man, Sir Justin Sandes, offers to let her stay in his home for the night. Manon accepts his offer, and spends the evening conversing with him. When dawn arrives, she rides off for London. Justin finds himself strangely preoccupied by the young man, so he follows “him” and quickly finds Manon in London. He has Manon’s bags delivered to his home, under her protest, and he vows to find out why this young man is really in the city.
Justin seems surprisingly uncurious about his attraction to Manon, whom he believes to be a seventeen year old boy. At one point Manon is thrown against him and he gets an erection, which hardly causes him to bat an eye. I would think a man in any era would do a little soul searching about his sexuality if he found himself attracted to a teenage boy, but Justin apparently isn’t the inquisitive sort. After he finds out Manon’s true gender, the book gets so strange that it is almost surreal. The minute Justin finds out Manon is a woman they sleep together. Neither of them thinks about the consequences, or even about their feelings for each other; it’s just “Oh, you’re a woman!” and off to bed they go. I was so stunned by this turn of events that I read the entire scene with my jaw hanging open – at least until I got to the exceedingly purple prose (at one point Justin’s manhood springs from his clothing and “slaps down upon her hand with a demanding thump”).
From here the book just gets worse. Justin tells Manon that he wants to marry her, and she resists the idea, even though she has no apparent reason for doing so. The subplot involving Roland and the list of Jacobite sympathizers grinds on to its inevitable and obvious conclusion. We meet Justin’s mother, a silly woman who speaks mostly in poetry, and for some unexplained reason Manon decides that she must pretend to be French in order to hide her identity from Justin’s mother. All the while, the dialogue becomes ever more stilted and the plot makes almost no sense whatsoever. The characters remain flat, wooden and unbelievable throughout the entire book.
I wish I could think of something positive about this book, but it is so poorly written (on every level) that it is nearly unreadable. I managed to finish it, but never have bothered had I not been reading it for review. If you are dying to read a book about a heroine who disguises herself as a boy, read Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue. If you want to read about believable Jacobites read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Manon is not a book I would recommend to anyone.