When Dashing Met Danger
by Shana Galen
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-77315-4
***
He’s a Regency-era spy for the Crown. She’s a beautiful woman searching for her missing brother. Shana Galen’s debut historical romance is a game effort, but this tired plot just doesn’t give her enough room to display her talents. Add the fact that the heroine would try the patience of a saint, let alone a mere reader, and When Dashing Met Danger falls into merely Acceptable territory.

Alexander Scarston, Earl of Selbourne, has been ordered to hang around London rather than return to his espionage activities in France, where his identity may have been discovered. Disgruntled, Alex finds himself at a ball where he reluctantly rescues a young woman from a drunken suitor, only to find out the woman is Lucia Dashing. Lucia’s sister is happily married to Alex’s brother, making them relatives of a sort, though he hasn’t laid eyes on her since the wedding five years earlier. Lucia is now a lovely young lady of twenty, and Alex can’t take his eyes off her.

Lucia struggles to win the approval of her politically ambitious father and her daffy, Italy-obsessed mother, who styles herself a signora and insists on speaking Italian at every opportunity. To that end, Lucia has allowed herself to become engaged to a doughy, politically-connected nobleman, the very one who was pawing her in the garden at the ball. When Lucia meets up with Alex again, her teenaged crush is revived.

Lucia’s twin brother has disappeared on a trip to Greece and hasn’t been heard from in months. Lucia’s father enlists his son-in-law, and by extension Alex, to find out what has happened. Lucia instantly decides she must be part of the investigation. Surely this will show her family that she’s no longer the headstrong, impulsive girl who was always getting into scrapes. She can be serious. She can formulate a plan.

Readers, of course, will be completely unsurprised to find that Lucia can do neither. She is the most annoying of immature heroines – unable to keep her mouth shut, barging in where she’s clearly not wanted, refusing to stay put when told to, even for her own safety, and generally making a nuisance of herself to all and sundry, while loudly proclaiming how capable and grown-up she is. Alex, of course, sees this behavior as adorably tempestuous and free-spirited. He doesn’t want to become entangled, of course, and he’ll never love anyone (because his father was a rotten bounder and a cad and love never lasts, etc.) but he can’t stand the thought of Lucia marrying someone who will restrict her spirit. Yet he goes white-hot with jealousy when Lucia flirts with anyone in order to gain information.

Lucia’s all-grown-up behavior includes sneaking into Alex’s home in the middle of the night because she’s discovered an important “clue,” and this leads to a predictable romp between the sheets as Lucia decides to experience one night of passion. The story moves to France when both are kidnapped, and at that point, the plot starts to wander. The plot moves from shipboard to Calais to Paris, the villains chase Alex and Lucia from one place to another, and the action had an undertone of desperation, as if the author knew she had a page count to make and had to keep the story going. It was very tempting to simply flip ahead to the end.

Alex is quite a decent hero, and in light of Lucia’s heedless behavior, I almost applauded his determination not to fall in love with her. Shana Galen has a nice writing style, too – I may have been exasperated with Lucia, but the story flowed smoothly for the most part, and the dialogue was well-done and often sparkly. What this book desperately needed was a heroine who could meet Alex as an equal, at least in the maturity department. As it was, Lucia’s character reduced their romance to one of lust and Alex not wanting to see her spirit broken – but that puts him in the Daddy position of having to look out for her all the time.

Granted, other readers aren’t going to have as strong a reaction to Lucia. And for them, this book may be quite a delicious treat. I can only hope that Ms. Galen’s next release leans less on formula and more on characters that are already grown up, not trying to prove they can get there.

--Cathy Sova


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