Red, Red Rose
Grade : B-

Red, Red Rose is set primarily in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. With its rich historical and military detail, it is somewhat reminiscent of Mary Jo Putney’s Shattered Rainbows. It has an exciting sub-plot involving spies and treason, and it’s quite a good read. The only problem is that the romance too often takes a back seat to the book’s other plot elements.

Lieutenant Val Aston has had a difficult life. Born as the bastard son of an earl, he has grown up resenting his birth and place in society. His father briefly brought him home and sent him to school with his half brother, but he left the school to join the military. After coming up through the ranks to the level of sergeant, he accepted a lieutenant’s commission purchased by his father. While he enjoys the military life, he is still painfully aware of the differences between himself and his fellow officers.

When Val rescues Elspeth Gordon from certain death, things begin to change. Elspeth is a major’s daughter who has spent most of her life following the drum. Val finds himself attracted to her, yet he feels that he cannot offer her marriage because of his illegitimate birth. Elspeth doesn’t care, but finds Val to be a stubborn man who feels unworthy of her love.

While Val is working through his feelings about Elspeth and his illegitimacy, he also has an important political responsibility. It has become clear that someone is leaking information to Napoleon’s army, and Val must find the traitor. As the circle of suspects narrows, Val struggles to maintain his objectivity – for one of the suspects is his dear friend. Eventually, he comes to terms with his love for Elspeth, and she helps him understand the need to forgive his father and others who have betrayed him.

Elspeth and Val are both interesting characters, but the book focuses mostly on Val’s challenges. Val is a complex character. He’s heroic, yet flawed – a combination that makes him seem very human. At first Elspeth seems peripheral to Val’s struggles, but as they grow closer it becomes clear that only she can redeem him and show him his true value as a person.

One of the books greatest strengths is its setting. Almost all of the book takes place in Portugal, with the British army waiting for the opposing side to make a move. Farrell captures the restlessness of the army, while depicting fascinating details of camp life. The spy/treason subplot is handled well within this framework. At first the traitor appears to be obvious, but then the situation becomes much more complicated.

However, the strength of the setting is also a weakness when it comes to the romance between Val and Elspeth. While the relationship is a primary focus in the beginning and end of the book, during the middle the military plot comes to the forefront, and we don’t see quite as much of the couple falling in love. If they had spent more time together during this intermediate stage, the book would have gotten a much higher grade.

My only other quibble was a little silly, but still distracting. Elspeth’s father had an orderly named Private Ryan. Every time his name was mentioned, which was surprisingly often, I pictured Matt Damon in a World War II uniform.

I did really enjoy this book, perhaps more than the grade suggests. While the military details did at times overwhelm the romance, I liked them. But other readers may not be quite as interested as I was. Still, I would recommend Red, Red Rose to those who appreciate well-researched history in their romances. And if you’re heading to the used bookstore, you might want to check out Marjorie Farrell’s earlier book, Sweet Awakening. It’s quite good as well.

Reviewed by Blythe Smith

Grade: B-

Book Type: Historical Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 12, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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