Heaven Sent by Marian Edwards
(Zebra, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6059-9
Considering the number of books I've read lately set in medieval Wales, you'd think I'd be an expert on the time period. Alas, when it comes to historical romance, the choice of setting is sometimes more an indication of what the author doesn't know, than of what she does. Heaven Sent perfectly supports my theory that medieval Wales is the ideal setting for an author who wants to use castles, brutality, misogyny, chauvinism, magic, and words like "nay," but who doesn't want to have to do too much research.

Wales is close enough to England to have castles, but distant enough to need only the barest mention of English political history. The struggles of the Norman kings of England to subjugate the Welsh are generally known, while the names of the Welsh leaders of the resistance are not, thus enabling an author to introduce lots of treachery and armed conflict without having to go to the trouble of explaining or acknowledging any real events. Finally, the Celtic origins of the Welsh provide the perfect excuse to include mystical or magical references and happenings.

In Heaven Sent, Ms. Edwards has made the most of her setting to produce a tour de force that includes a castle, gruesome deaths, brutal acts, callous misogyny partnered with feminine submission, treachery, revenge AND time travel AND reincarnation!

Indeed, one has to be impressed with the utility, if not the clarity, of this unusual plot. The story opens in 11th century Wales with an unsuccessful attempt on the part of Bronwyn (could there ever have been as many Bronwyns in fact as there are in this type of fiction?), to poison Christophe Montgomery, the "warlord" sent by William of Normandy to subjugate her people through brutality and marriage to her. Her ruse goes awry and after he rapes her savagely –"as she had expected" – they both die from the effects of the poison she has been forced to imbibe as well. But, hey, this is a romance novel – the story can't end here.

The next chapter introduces us to Regan Carmichael and Drew Daniels, handicapped activist for the disabled and ruthless corporate warlo...er, raider. The time is now 1998 and they are participating in a fund raising stunt that involves their being handcuffed together on an airplane. The airplane crashes and although Drew manages to free himself, Regan is trapped and Drew, her erstwhile opponent, refuses to leave her. They burn to death – together. Is your heart fluttering yet?

It turns out that Drew and Regan weren't supposed to die yet, so the heavenly guides send them back to two bodies that just happen – through some heavenly sleight-of-time –to be available: Bronwyn and Christophe. Now this is the truly inspired part of the story. As they "wake up" in their "pre-owned" bodies, Regan and Drew each realize that they have been granted their fondest wish: Regan finds herself in a beautiful, perfect body, lying next to the gorgeous hunk of her wildest dreams and Drew finds himself to be a much younger, more powerful warlord with a license to indulge his every macho fantasy. Needless to say, they go at it like minks; which – though Regan is at first confused and unwilling and Drew is, umm.....powerful – is not really rape because, as Regan/Bronwyn thinks to herself, "Why not lie back and enjoy?"

Thus begins the tedious tale of these out-of-time-and-place lovers whose chief response to their strange situation is to indulge all the fantasies they couldn't honestly enjoy in the twentieth century: like dominance, submission, great sex on demand. Although each remembers his/her own previous life, neither one figures out the other's real identity until near the end of the book. They don't trust each other, since each assumes the other is the medieval counterpart, and much plot time is taken up with the treachery of various unsavory characters that is falsely blamed on Regan/Bronwyn. This gives Drew/Christophe lots of opportunities to be cruel and unfeeling to her while she thinks of clever, feminine ways to persuade him that she's now on his side.

A castle is built, rebellion is quelled, and – after much passion and cruel misunderstanding – our two time-traveling souls recognize each other and their eternal bond only to...nope, can't give away the ending. But here's a hint: if you liked the beginning, you'll LOVE the ending.

My apologies to the author and to any who might enjoy this book. Maybe I just didn't get it. This is not the worst writing out there (although the continual use of "oui," and "non" in dialogue to give it a Norman "feel" also supports my theory about the author's use of setting...), but I just cannot recommend this as a romance. Call me old-fashioned, but even a great body, long, flowing tresses, and sex with an alpha warlord could not reconcile me to death by burning. I'll take another fantasy, please.

--Bev Hill

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