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The Rogue by Claire Delacroix
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61110-7
**
Ysabella of Kinfairlie is a young peasant woman when she meets Merlyn of Ravensmuir. Merlyn is a nobleman who is captivated by the saucy, outspoken woman. He sweeps her off her feet and ends up marrying her on the spot. For two glorious weeks they are together, until the truth about Merlyn's livelihood shatters their marriage. Much like Ysabella's marriage, The Rogue starts off fast and exciting, but soon falls apart.

The story opens five years after Ysabella's flight from Ravensmuir. Ysabella is now back in Kinfairlie. Her younger brother and sister are now her sole care since the death of her mother and they are struggling to survive.

On this night, her estranged husband Merlyn rides to her door, begging her assistance. She refuses and finds out the next day that he's been killed. Even more surprising is that he has made her the heir to Ravensmuir. Seeing a chance to help her family, Ysabella returns to her former home. It isn't long before she suspects that Merlyn is not really dead.

It is a compelling beginning to the story. Right away the reader is drawn into Ysabella's world and wants to find out more about her mysterious relationship with Merlyn. Ysabella brooks no nonsense, and doesn't immediately become a quivering heap willing to sacrifice her beliefs for a sexy man. When Ysabella arrives in Ravensmuir and is greeted by the stereotypical bitter/jealous housekeeper, she takes no guff.

Sadly, this doesn't last and The Rogue loses itself among a myriad of little problems.

The story is told in first person narrative from the point of view of Ysabella. On the one hand, this creates a very readable and approachable tone. One feels like they are being confided in and forms a closer bond to the heroine. The downside to first person is that the only person the reader really gets to know is the person speaking.

Readers never get to know Merlyn except through Ysabella's eyes and because of that he becomes a less developed character. He is "The Rogue" but we never know his motivation. One doesn't know what is going on with his emotions aside from what he tells Ysabella, which is very little. The remaining secondary characters are not much more than caricatures for Ysabella to play off.

Also, I'm not quite sure why Merlyn's dealing with false relics is such a big deal to Ysabella. In the context of the time, one can see why she would believe his soul was in jeopardy, however that she would endanger the welfare of family over it didn't make sense. The other irritating bit about the situation is how Ysabella is constantly chiding Merlyn for abandoning her and never coming to see her in five years. She took off, left him without a word of warning, yet she's mad at him for not contacting her? It didn't fit her character, which up until then had been fairly sensible and direct.

The other problem with this book is that the hero and heroine spend much of it apart. The few times they are together it's usually in an intimate context. While these scenes are enjoyable and well written, it doesn't create much romance for the reader. What we end up reading is a mildly interesting mystery story about a missing relic and who wants Merlyn dead.

--Anne Bulin


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