At Long Last

For Love Alone

A Heart for the Taking

Love Be Mine

Lovers Forever

Swear by the Moon by Shirlee Busbee
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60925-0
Swear by the Moon begins with an utterly gripping prologue. Thereafter, the book’s intriguing plot struggles bravely to overcome the predictable, stereotyped characters and slightly overwritten style that rob it of both energy and mystery.

The prologue recounts the elopement of 17-year-old Thea Garrett with the handsome 33-year-old rake her family despises. In less time than it takes to dash to Gretna Green, innocent Thea’s romantic adventure is crushed to rubble. It is powerfully and cleanly written, and sets a standard that the rest of the book, unfortunately, does not meet.

The elopement is foiled, but Thea’s reputation is ruined and she spends six years in the country where she cannot taint the delicate sensibilities of the ton. Inheriting a fortune on the death of her mother, however, Thea returns to London and the story picks up four years later. Now, although still highly notorious, she has gained a certain level of social acceptance.

Thea quite enjoys her freedom. Her one regret is her younger half-sister. Married to a fortune hunter, Edwina blames the scandal created by Thea’s elopement for her inability to make a more advantageous match. Having gone through Edwina’s money, her husband, Alfred, now wants Thea to support their lifestyle and his gambling. With veiled threats, Alfred lures Thea to a clandestine meeting in an unoccupied house and she goes, determined that this is the last time he’ll get his hands on her money.

Money is also causing problems for Patrick Blackburne; someone is blackmailing his mother. He goes to a clandestine meeting in an unoccupied house to confront the villain, and is nearly knocked over by Thea rushing out. Inside, he finds a dead man on the floor of the study.

While trying to find out what’s going on, Patrick finds himself increasingly involved with, and increasingly intrigued by Thea. She is not at all what he expected from her reputation and he is unexpectedly captivated. Thea, for her part, is horrified to find herself equally attracted to another dashing rake.

Thea is my least favorite kind of paper doll in the romance novel cut-out book. Faced with a tricky situation, the author assures us that: “Thea didn’t stop to think.” Not now, not later, not ever. Most charitably described as “headstrong,” the true purpose of this heedless behavior is, as always, to offer the hero many opportunities to be authoritative and save her from herself. Unfortunately, when it becomes obvious that Thea will be always be reckless and thoughtless, it rather detracts from the suspense. And her old-fashioned tendency to stutter in the presence of the hero doesn’t add credibility.

Patrick fulfills his part admirably. He is handsome, intelligent and brave, and always available to rescue Thea from her own folly. He falls madly in love with her in spite of the fact that she lashes out rudely at him whenever anything happens that does not please her. Which is frequently. As a child, he was a pawn in his parents' unhappy union, so he has led an unabashed life of hedonism, determined never to marry - but the rakish behavior vanishes in a puff of smoke when he meets Thea. It was more of a transformation than a reformation, and not nearly so interesting.

In the beginning, I thought that the twists and turns of the engaging plot would be enough to carry all of this, but regretfully Ms. Busbee’s general writing style turns out not to be my favorite either. After a person or situation is introduced, there are paragraphs and sometimes pages of description and background, telling us who a character is, what the room looks like, why so-and-so thinks as they do, how they came to be in such an fix, etc. Instead of massaging this information into the narrative or creating action around it (for that you have to re-read the prologue), everything grinds to a halt for a little lecture. It constantly interrupts the story’s momentum until, for me, it just couldn’t recover.

The romance genre is packed with formulaic characters and slightly bulky prose, though, and if those don’t bother you, you will find some nice surprises in the story.

--Judi McKee

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