Night Visitor

Amarantha by Melanie Jackson
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4900-7
Amarantha takes place just after the disastrous rising in 1745 of the Scottish clans in support of Bonnie Prince Charles and the Stuart succession to the British throne. The period, and especially its politics, has the charm of novelty, and the Cornish setting is lovingly described. These strengths almost offset shortcomings in the way the romance between Amarantha Stanhope and Tamlane Adair develops.

Amarantha Stanhope’s fiancé died in the uprising, at about the same time that her parents succumbed to natural causes. Left a considerable heiress, she reentered London society once her period of mourning had passed. However, Amarantha found the political climate painful, as the government captured and hanged Bonnie Prince Charles’ adherents and worked to obliterate the Highland culture. By the time her uncle invited her to visit him at his home in Cornwall, to help with his Celtic research, Amarantha was delighted to have a reason to leave London, even for such a remote location as Bodmin Moor.

Soon after Amarantha arrives, she hears stories about her uncle’s nearest neighbor, the rector of the local Church of England church. Tamlane Adair is supposed to be able to control the “evil demons and malevolent spraggins” that haunt Bodmin Moor. Intrigued, Amarantha finds an excuse to visit the rector, expecting to find an elderly clergyman. Instead, Tamlane turns out to be a tall, lithe, green-eyed Scotsman. (Are you surprised?)

From this first contrived meeting, and on very little evidence, Amarantha is convinced that Tamlane is involved with the local smugglers. She warns him that his activities are dangerous and then follows him out onto the Moor at night to confirm her suspicions. She realizes her actions are reckless and thinks that “a smart woman would abandon the entire notion” but that “she would not make the intelligent decision.”

This is the second time that the text points out that Amarantha may not be too bright - not a clever move on an author’s part. I already thought that Melanie Jackson’s heroine jumped to conclusions on little evidence; now the author has pointed out that her judgment is poor, to say the least. For Amarantha to succeed as a romantic heroine, the reader must persevere beyond the first third of the book, past her initial foolishness.

How about the character of Tamlane Adair? For the most part, Tamlane’s character has no such obvious failings. Instead, for the first 100 pages I had no idea how he felt, especially about Amarantha who, let it be said, was making a pest of herself. I was startled, therefore, when - on their fourth encounter - Tamlane thinks that “this strange magnetism she had (had) worked from their first meeting…and he was growing ever more fascinated.”

Up to that point, I had no idea any “strange magnetism” was at work on Tamlane…and no wonder. This passage, on page 98, is the first from Tamlane’s point of view. Nor has there been any speculation on Amarantha’s part, or on the part of a secondary character, that he might be attracted to her. Until then I thought Tamlane regarded her only as a nuisance.

Despite the book’s shaky beginning, once I got into the story and Amarantha and Tamlane started racketing around Cornwall together, I grew more interested in the tale. The history and setting of the story were sufficiently unfamiliar to be intriguing, and Ms. Jackson’s descriptions of the Cornish countryside were downright seductive. In the end, I found Amarantha a pleasant, if unenthralling, story which worked better as a travelogue than as a romance.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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