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The Promise of Rain by Shana Abé
(Bantam, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-553-57788-3
***
Without pretense or undue artifice, The Promise of Rain takes the reader on one young woman's compelling, though often dour journey from despair to happiness. Heavy on revenge, remorse, guilt, grief, and ultimately, forgiveness, The Promise of Rain nonetheless captures the reader's attention through its straightforward presentation, its bland but industrious young heroine, and a hero who can truly be termed a nice guy.

As we meet Lady Kyla Warwick, she is holding a knife to the throat of her former fiancé, Lord Roland Strathmore. In the weeks leading up to this rather desperate act, Kyla has tragically suffered the loss of both her parents and her beloved younger brother. The murder of Kyla's mother and subsequent death-by-heartbreak of her father forces the young woman to grow up fast. But when her twelve-year-old brother is killed on the battlefield in defense of the Scottish keep where they had sought refuge, Kyla's thoughts turn to vengeance.

Kyla believes it was Strathmore who gave the order to destroy her Uncle's castle, but the truth goes far beyond what appears on the surface. Charged by the King to bring his former fiancée to London to face questioning, Strathmore is loathe to make Kyla's life any more difficult than it has already been. But he is not known as the King's "Hound of Hell" for nothing – Strathmore's legendary determination ensures that Kyla will, indeed, reach London.

Fearing banishment to the Tower of London for her father's "crime" (one both she and Strathmore are convinced her father did not commit), Kyla is resigned to her fate. But Strathmore has formed a strong attachment to the girl and can't bear to see her suffer. He spontaneously announces before King Henry that he and Kyla have married. Before it can be disputed, Kyla agrees and the two are handfasted – legally married by simple declaration.

It is after the "wedding" that The Promise of Rain lightens up a bit, moving the action to Roland's island home of Lorlreau. An almost mystical paradise full of happy peasants and tame forest creatures, Lorlreau enchants Kyla, as does its Lord. Fate, as foreshadowed through the premonitions of a "sited" blind girl, take a hand in ensuring that all of the mysteries will be resolved and that peace and love will reign supreme.

Author Shana Abé effectively illustrates Kyla's journey from despair to happiness through the settings that mirror her emotional state. The dark days following the death of her family are spent in highland forests, and dark alleyways. Then, quite literally, she comes out of the fog and encounters the beauty and brightness of Lorlreau. Perhaps a tad too Brigadoon-ish to form a believable counterpoint to the bleak settings that proceeded it, Lorleau is nonetheless a welcome burst of sunshine amidst darkness, although the heavy handed tone of the piece is in keeping with the destruction, murder and intrigue that surround the main characters.

For all that Abé creates an effective mood, her characterizations are somewhat flat and reserved. The relationship between Kyla and Roland builds to an inevitable conclusion with very little work on the lady's part. She seems more interested in exploring Lorlreau's hidden passages than she does in establishing a relationship with the people around her, a fact that leaves the reader craving more of an emotional punch.

The Promise of Rain, though it's not destined for the keeper shelf, isn't a bad read. It places the reader in vivid surroundings and gives them a story with a little more bite than some of the dreck that passes for a plot line these day.

--Ann McGuire


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