has also reviewed:

Wicked At Heart
The Wild One

 
The Beloved One by Danelle Harmon
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79263-X
****
How does one evaluate a book which for the first two-thirds had me turning the pages as fast as I could only to lose me in the final third? This is the problem I face in reviewing Danelle Harmon's The Beloved One.

This novel is a continuation of the saga of the de Montforte family, headed by the awesome Lucien, Duke of Blackheath. The first in the series, The Wild One, ended on a most intriguing note. In that book, Lord Gareth de Montforte, renowned for his wild ways, found himself responsible for his elder brother Charles' fiancée and child. Lord Charles had been killed after Concord and Juliet, having borne his daughter, had come to England to throw herself on his family's mercy. She no longer had a place in Boston. In large part because of Lucien's machinations, Gareth had married Juliet and it had been the making of both of them. The book ended with a shocker: a letter from Charles informing his family that he was indeed alive.

I must admit that I had a great deal of curiosity about how Harmon was going to explain where Charles had been for two years. A wounded or captured English officer would have been exchanged at that point in the war. So what could have happened?

What happens is that Charles, leading his men back from Lexington and Concord through a hornet's nest of attacking colonials, is about to kill one of the "minutemen" when he realizes his target is a mere boy. Jerking his pistol away, he loses his balance and falls heavily against a stone wall, caving in the back of his head.

Undoubtedly, Charles would have died either on the field or at the hands of a field surgeon. But his erstwhile target, Will Leighton, lugs the wounded captain back to his home in Newburyport, where he is treated by a surgeon who knows his works. To save the captain's life, the doctor trepans his skull. Charles probably still would have died were it not for the tender care of Will's sister, Amy. When Charles recovers consciousness, he discovers that he is blind. He wishes he were dead, but Amy refuses to let him despair and becomes his light in great darkness. His feelings for her confuse him and cause him guilt, because, after all, he left a pregnant fiancée in Boston.

His commanding officer informs Charles that he has no use for a blind officer and that, as he seems comfortably situated in Newburyport, he should simply remain there. The British army cannot spare anyone to retrieve a clumsy captain. A letter from his brother the duke chides Lord Charles for the ignominious way in which he received his wound and informs him that he has disgraced the family. He might as well stay in Massachusetts. Juliet's letter is the killer: she informs him that she has lost the baby and wants nothing to do with a man who has brought shame to her.

Wow! Talk about rejection! Charles had always been the Beloved One, the perfect one, the one who didn't make mistakes and who had the admiration of family, friends, and associates

He tries to retreat into the wilderness, but circumstances and an amazing discovery lead him back to England. He takes Amy with him because her position at home is so unpleasant. And, for me, everything was fine until they got to England. I found Charles a well-drawn tortured hero, a man who had always held himself to the highest standards and who had always succeeded in meeting them, a man who now feels that he is an abject failure who has lost his self. Amy is a warm and brave and loving heroine whose own background had made her an outcast and who has to learn to appreciate her own strength and beauty. They are two good people who are trying to do the right thing, but are caught up in a love that cannot be denied.

If I had to analyze what went wrong, I guess I would have to say that Lucien is not a completely compelling or comprehensible character for me. He is supposed to be the deux ex machina who subtly orders his siblings lives for their own good. But it doesn't seem to work for me. Rather than subtle, Lucien often seems cruel. And, to be completely honest, I found the ending simply over the top!

Yet, when all is said and done, I have decided to recommend the book. I believe that readers who enjoyed The Wild One will want to see what happens to the de Montforte family. I think other readers will enjoy the hero and the heroine. But I only wish I had enjoyed the end of the book as much as I did the beginning.

--Jean Mason


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