Devil Takes a Bride

His Wicked Kiss

Lord of Fire

Lord of Ice

One Night of Sin

The Pirate Prince

The Princess

 
Her Only Desire
by Gaelen Foley
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-345-48011-8
***
Her Only Desire is standard Gaelen Foley fare. It features a vivacious if scandal-prone heroine and a noble but emotionally wounded hero. Both must lay down their lives for national security and battle inner demons before they earn the right to a happy-ever- after.

Georgiana Knight is named for her scandalous aunt, the very same Duchess of Hawkscliffe who is the mother of all of the Knight children in the other books in this series. Unlike her cousins, Georgie was born in India and is more familiar with the customs and habits of the Anglo-Indian elite than with the London one. She doesn't, however, approve of all of them. In fact, when we first see her, she is riding to the rescue of a childhood friend, a young widow who must demonstrate her wifely devotion and virtue by joining her husband on his funeral pyre. Georgiana will not allow her friend to commit sati, as this traditional Hindu ritual is called. With the help of Ian Prescott, the Marquess of Griffith, a British officer and diplomat who is conveniently at the scene, she removes her friend from the flames.

Ian is in India to convince King Johar, the Maharajah of Janpur, to sign a treaty of neutrality. Although he is (obviously) attracted to the beautiful Georgiana, he refuses her friendly and helpful overtures. For one, he fears she is too much like her namesake and balks at any scandal in his life. For another, he has already been married once and doesn't want to go through that heartbreak again (the exact nature of the heartbreak and how it explains Ian's behavior aren't revealed until the end of the story, but neither comes as a major surprise). Finally, he is convinced the young woman can't be of much help in his mission. So he puts her under house arrest and rides off to deal with his mission. By the time Ian sees Georgie there, he has realized that they are well-suited (their attempts to act out erotic Hindu carvings helped), but now the scars of his emotional trauma stand in their way. As romance conventions would have it, these are a much more serious threat to their future happiness than all the notorious Indian bandits, palace intrigues and bloody wars put together.

Despite being fairly predictable, Ian and Georgiana are likeable characters, and their story is quite engrossing. Until the final sequences, action, character development and romance are balanced quite effectively. And yet, Her Only Desire would be quite indistinguishable were it not for the rather unusual setting. Foley does a good job bringing early nineteenth-century British India to life. She probes the conflicts and contradictions of her secondary characters, making them into something more than passive Hindu brides. She also alludes frequently to aspects of British rule, which suggests that she has done her research. Finally, her attention to unique smells, tastes and sights brings the subcontinent to life.

I was less convinced with Foley's efforts in the English part of the novel. Among the numerous threats Georgiana has to confront there is the stereotypical thwarted lover and Other Woman. This only elicited some yawns. Elsewhere, the purple-tinged descriptions provoked loud outbursts of laughter. Georgiana is entirely enamored with Ian's collarbones which "spanned outward like flying buttresses to reinforce the might of his wide, iron shoulder." There may be some merit to comparing a rock-hard man to a well- wrought architectural structure, but frankly I don't see it. That aside, Foley fans in search of more of the same won't be disappointed with Her Only Desire. Even the rest of us won't regret the time spent on her latest venture.

--Mary Benn


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