The Emerald Swan by Jane Feather
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-57525-2
***
The Emerald Swan is the third in a series by Jane Feather featuring titles of jewelry charms. The first, The Diamond Slipper, was dreadful; the second, The Silver Rose, was much better. The Emerald Swan falls midway between. The writing is the high quality Feather is capable of (which is in the highest caliber of the genre), but the plot is a retread of the over-used twins-separated-by-disaster. (It also suffers from my newest pet peeve: a proliferation of cute pets belonging to heroines, in this case a monkey.)

During the St. Bartholomew's massacre of the Huguenots in Paris in 1572, a young mother of twin daughters is slain, and one of the infants crawls away before the mother's body and the remaining twin are found.

Nearly twenty years later in Elizabethan England, Lord Gareth Harcourt watches a young acrobat performing with a troupe of traveling entertainers and recognizes her extraordinary likeness to his ward, Maude. When Miranda appears to have been left behind when her family sails to France, Gareth convinces Miranda to let him hire her as a stand-in when Maude is indisposed. Maude is frequently indisposed as a means of manipulating those around her.

Miranda's intelligence and joie de vivre assist her in assuming her new role within Gareth's household which include his sister, Lady Imogen, and her husband. Lady Imogen is horrified that Gareth is jeopardizing their future by including Miranda in his plans. Gareth has arranged a very advantageous marriage for Maude with Henry of Navarre (here Feather takes some liberties with history) that will help to achieve his ambitions, and he recognizes that Miranda can assist him in carrying out his plans even without Maude's cooperation.

Gareth, whose passionate first wife died in a mysterious accident, is engaged to a coolly proper lady of social standing, but he finds himself charmed by Miranda's energy and enthusiasm. Miranda is attracted by the virile lord even though she knows the disparity in their positions, but she doesn't perceive the magnitude of Gareth's determination to achieve his ambitions whatever the cost to Miranda's happiness. Gareth's secret knowledge is yet another step in his path to success.

The strongest aspect of this book is the characterization although I believe the author has created stronger characters in earlier books.

Gareth is particularly multi-dimensional: haunted by his dead wife, enchanted by the lively Miranda, audacious in his political maneuverings. He's not a totally likable character: he can place his ambitions before the well-being of others, but his behavior is very much in character for a man of his time. Miranda is intelligent, resourceful, and loyal. She is torn between her love for the family who raised her and the man she has come to love. Maude, I'm pleased to report, turned out to be a lot more likable than I first thought she would; more than any other, her character developed as the story continued. Lady Imogen is the least appealing character even though she acts in what she considers to be her brother's best interests.

What this book lacks is the spark of originality that I've admired in other of Feather's books. While reading The Emerald Swan, I had the feeling that this was familiar territory. Nothing was particularly unique, not the plot, not the characters. I'd read them before; I'll undoubtedly read them again. I haven't been particularly "charmed" by this series and wish that Feather would write another book of the quality of her Velvet. But if you're in the mood for a well-written, sometimes entertaining story with a hint of mystery, this might be a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap


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