The Faun's Folly by Sandra Heath
(Signet, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-18651-6
Those who have read my previous reviews know that I am pretty conventional in my taste in Regencies, but that I'm no stick-in-the-mud. I mean I have read, enjoyed and/or recommended Regencies with time traveling heroines, ghosts, cupids, and even vampires. So I must assume that my negative response to Sandra Heath's recent entry into the fantasy Regency sweepstakes is not rooted in the subject matter.

Or, perhaps it is. Did this tale of an English duke who fled to Naples to postpone his inevitable marriage to the woman chosen by his father; who in a case of mistaken identity is lured to a magic grove where a faun, Sylvanus, plans to punish him for supposed misdeeds by turning him into a statue; who is transported to England (in statue form with Sylvanus hanging on for dear life) by the god Bacchus charged with the task of winning the love of his erstwhile bride without revealing his identity or face an eternity as a perch for pigeons; and who must spend his days in statue form just to make the task all the more difficult was all this simply too much for my tolerance of departures from the conventions of the genre?

Actually, I think my negative response the The Faun's Folly is rooted, at least in part, on the complexities of the plot, which are only hinted at in the above description. I think that these complexities led to a certain degree of ponderousness in the writing. And that these, combined with an incredibly improbable story, made reading this book a chore not a pleasure.

Our duke is Gervase Mowbray, Duke of Wroxham. His father has made it a condition of his inheriting the dukedom (when will authors remember that a father could not leave the title where he pleased, whatever he chose to do with his unentailed fortune) that he marry Anne Willowby, whose responsible demeanor impressed the old duke so that he overlooked her advanced age, lack of birth or fortune, and unimpressive looks. Anne is forced to agree to the match because otherwise, her parents will lose their home. Yup, a really likely scenario.

Gervase, postponing the inevitable, accompanies his cousin Hugh on a trip to Naples. We get to discover Hugh's villainy early on when he sexually mistreats a maid while pretending to be the duke. This is what leads the duke and Hugh to that glade with the faun and, oh yes, Ariadne's diadem, which Hugh just happens to make off with, while consigning Gervase to what Hugh believes is a watery grave. Then Hugh rushes off to London to claim the dukedom and the beauteous Kitty, an actress of overweening ambition and considerable talent in the bedroom if not on stage.

Hugh promise to make Kitty his duchess, but first, since the old duke's will doesn't differentiate between one heir or another when it comes to marrying Miss Willowby, he has to do away with sweet Anne. And so he, with Kitty in tow, heads off to Monmouthshire to woo and murder the innocent Anne. Meanwhile, Gervase has arrived on the scene. He needs to convince Anne to say "I love you," and, while he seeks to gain her heart, he loses his own.

There are numerous complications before love wins, including Sylvanus' quest to regain the diadem and his love affair with the nymph (or naiad) Penelope, who starts out as a wooden statue. (Don't ask me to explain).

One final note. There is a bit more graphic sexual content in The Faun's Folly than is typical of a Regency. That most of these scenes involve the villain seems part of a trend that I have noticed recently. I'm not sure I like the trend.

At any rate, I simply cannot recommend Heath's book nor even adjudge it an acceptable Regency. It certainly failed my putdown/pickup test. I put it down after about eighty pages and had to force myself to pick it up again. Heath has written some good and entertaining Regencies in the past. I have not found her most recent excursions into paranormal Regencies rewarding. I hope she goes back to the traditional format and gives us the kind of enjoyable novel we have come to expect from a seasoned Regency author.

--Jean Mason

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