Fallen by Celeste Bradley
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4888-4
***
I had high hopes for this book after Iíd read the first few chapters. The lively action and entertaining characters held out promise for some enjoyable reading hours. Unfortunately, the remaining chapters donít sustain the level of the first few. The plot spirals down with some worn conventions - nasty relations make big trouble, jealous hero loses all perspective, plain heroine turns out to be beautiful when expensively gowned, hidden abusive marriage secrets revealed -and the spark of originality that first enlivens the character interaction is extinguished by the contrived conflict and the conventional plotting.

Set in 1831 England, Fallen begins at night at a society country house party. Isadora Temple is asleep in bed when she awakes to find a handsome man forcefully making love to her. She fights him off and her screams bring would-be rescuers running to her room. A remembered whispered name and a glance at the divinely beautiful married Celia, Lady Bottomly, prompt Izzy to realize that Effingham Rowley, Lord Blackworth, son of a marquess, grandson of a duke, had mistaken her room for the one across the hall.

Izzyís cousin Hildegard, with whom she lives, is outraged that she would bring disgrace on the family (and secretly annoyed that she hadnít thought up the same scheme for her daughter); Lord Blackworthís father Lord Rotham is indignant that he would assault an innocent woman. Izzy attempts to defuse the situation by claiming that it wasnít an assault but a loversí quarrel.

Lord Rotham is adamant that his son will salvage her damaged reputation and marry her. When Lord Blackworth goes to Izzy and proposes, she refuses and says a betrothal is unnecessary. As they converse (during which time Izzy declares she canít stand his nickname Effie and will call him Julian, his second name), Julian finds the plain, unattractively dressed woman to be more interesting than he had expected. They gradually become friends. He explains his fatherís dictatorial command, and they agree to enter a sham betrothal until such time it can be quietly broken.

Izzy has been treated as the lowest of poor relations in her cousinís familyís house. It has been her dream to take her parentsí inheritance and travel to America where she can be free of their demands. Julian becomes aware of Izzyís circumstances and sets out to alleviate them. He enlists Celia, Lady Bottomly to dress her properly for her new role as his fiancťe. Once she is dressed in beautiful gowns and her ugly cap discarded, Izzy turns out to be beautiful. She is instantly a great social success. But happily ever after doesnít come that easily. They will face multiple complications that will challenge their expectations and test their love.

Izzy is a contradictory character. Sheís a Cinderella whose beauty and charm are only revealed when the prince spies her at the ball. For years sheís been acting as unpaid housekeeper and governess and gardener but has formulated only vague plans of sometime escaping to America and freedom. Itís hard to accept that the candid, assertive woman who quickly assesses situations and comprehends matters that have escaped others would allow herself to be so tyrannized so long by her dreadful relatives - and Cinderella had a swell family compared to this gang.

Furthermore, she seems to undergo a personality change as the story progresses. When Izzy is allowed to be unpredictable, sheís charming, but when she starts the usual rounds of parties, flirtations, and beautiful gowns, sheís indistinguishable from countless other I-canít-tell-him-I-love-him-because-he-hasnít-told-me heroines. Itís a shame to see such a spontaneous heroine become so routine.

Julian is too, too right that knowing Izzy changes him. Heís another of those ubiquitous daddy-never-loved-me, chased-by-adoring-women, tortured rake heroes. The two characters have some entertaining scenes together in the beginning where Julian comes to admire Izzy for her spunk and courage. Then, however, Julian starts dwelling on Daddy and Grandpa and how unloving they are, how he really wants to keep lusting after bounteous loose women rather than be stuck in a committed marriage, and how Izzy probably loves his best friend whom she hasnít spent much time with because acting like a thinking adult would be too difficult, and he becomes a stock character.

Itís easy for a reader to believe that this is a couple who belongs together when Izzy and Julian are first discovering each other, but by the last quarter of the book theyíve lost that connection. Julian spends a lot of time drinking himself into a stupor, and Izzy spends her time secretly watching him longingly. Whereís that spunk they showed earlier?

If Fallen had maintained its beginning course, Iíd be recommending it as an original twist on the forced marriage plot, but unfortunately the majority of the book is a disappointing same old same old. Itís not a book to avoid at all costs, but itís not the book it could have been if it had all been like those delightful first few chapters.

--Lesley Dunlap


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