Reading this book was frustrating - like watching someone take a beautifully designed room and hide it under a drab color scheme.
Christian Dumont is the Count of Langiers - or should be. When King Richard returned from the Crusades, he executed Christianís father for allegiance to Prince John, and threw Christian and his brother Geoffrey into prison where they are near death.
Suddenly, Richard offers to release Christian and restore his titles, lands and honor if he will travel to England and do whatever Queen Eleanor requires of him. Christian is worried that Eleanor might want something that would compromise his honor - or even his immortal soul - but it appears this is his one chance to save his beloved younger brother so he agrees.
In England, Christian is astounded to find that his ďtaskĒ is to marry the beautiful and wealthy Emalie Montgomerie, daughter and heir of the deceased Earl of Harbridge. It all seems too good to be true, so Christian is relieved but cautious.
What Christian does not know (yet) is that Emalie is probably pregnant by one William DeSeverin as an unwilling pawn in a plot John hatched to gain control of her familyís estates. Eleanor, by arranging to have her marry a man eager to prove his loyalty to Richard, hopes to scuttle Johnís nasty plan.
Itís a great premise, rife with possibilities, but it quickly sags under the weight of two lackluster characters and struggles to carry them to the end.
Emilie, who single-handedly kept her familyís estates whole and prosperous after her fatherís death, turns into a passive doormat the minute Christian arrives. Iím not suggesting that she should have fought her husband for a level of control unrealistic in the twelfth century, but surely someone as smart and committed as weíre supposed to believe she is, someone who has earned the gratitude and respect of every single person on the estate, would have found some way to exert some influence. Or at least tried.
Not Emilie. She pretty much lies down and feels sorry for herself, taking a little time out to throb and tingle when Christian kisses her, even though she begs him to wait before consummating the marriage. Sheís not afraid of sex, though - she has ďno memory of what William had done.Ē In other words, in spite of everything thatís happened to her, sheís basically just another innocent virgin. So much for originality.
Christianís story is similar. He emerges from his incarceration weak as a kitten and with some fascinating residual problems (he canít stand enclosed spaces and must physically prevent himself from hoarding food). But his problems donít affect any important part of the plot, and by the time he needs his strength, why, heís all recovered. So much for suspense.
The story brings together two people who have been unfairly deprived of everything important to them through no fault of their own, but Christian has the self-awareness of a footstool. He is oblivious to the parallels in their situations and totally preoccupied with himself. To be fair, Emilie just drifts through, giving him no help. Since things canít go on like this forever (not longer than 300 pages, anyway), Christianís best friend gives him a stern lecture and Christian shapes up. So much for character development.
So, after all this complaining, why do I give this book an ďacceptableĒ three hearts? Well, I kept reading. The interesting premise helped keep me going, hoping that something satisfying would come of it. So did Ms. Brisbinís lively, engaging writing style which would have been much better served by lively and engaging characters. Lastly, the final third of the book picks up the pace considerably, actually replacing sulking with action. If not totally satisfying, it was energetic enough to feel like a reward for my perseverance.
In my experience, at the core of a three heart read is usually a mundane or even bad idea that drags everything else down with it. Ms. Brisbin has the hard part - the good idea - licked. If she can populate her next story with equally fascinating characters, I will be a much happier reader.
-- Judi McKee