Manon by Melanie Jackson
(Leisure, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4737-3
Manon starts out fast-paced and intriguing and the romance itself is right on track throughout. What keeps this book from a 4-heart rating is the fact that the plot grows far too placid and uneventful during the last third of the book, the point at which a novel should, if anything, get even faster paced than it has been up until that point.

Manon DeMille has lost everything, including her two brothers, in England's second backlash against the Jacobites (supporters of the Scottish Stuart monarch). She flees Scotland in male costume because if she is apprehended, she knows she will be hung for crimes of treason against England for her part in the war effort. Worse yet, Manon is the possessor of a list of Jacobite names that the bloodthirsty English politician Edward Hale would give anything to lay his hands on. Manon has but one goal in mind: get the list to Roland Cameraux, a supporter of the Jacobites hiding out somewhere near London (also a friend to her deceased brothers), and get him to France before the English hang him.

While en route to London, Manon comes upon a gentleman being accosted by two highwaymen. She takes it upon herself to aid the gentleman by shooting one of the criminals while he takes care of the first. The gentleman, Sir Justin Sandes, is more grateful than he can say and invites Manon (dressed as Martin) to his estate to rest before going on to London. Manon is taken with the Englishman right away, but knows she must depart quickly rather than have him discover her gender, or worse yet, lead Edward Hale's henchmen to his front door...

Sir Justin Sandes feels responsible for the young Martin from the moment they first meet. He is also able to confide in him like he has no other, going so far as to unburden himself about his broken heart, having discovered that his fiancée was unfaithful to him before her death. When young Martin twice tries to elude him, Justin refuses to let him out of his sight, not wanting anything ill to become of him. Little does Sir Justin know that the impish young boy is really a beautiful woman named Manon on the run for her life...

The protagonists are well developed for the most part. In the beginning of Manon, Justin is revealed to us as everything a hero should be...sturdy, reliable, passionate, and with just enough danger and mystique about him to keep you turning to the next page. Manon is also an impressive heroine...independent without being witchy, feisty without being cold, and normal enough for female readers to relate to.

Like the plot, however, the characters begin to lose their luster about two-thirds into the novel. Suddenly, Justin seems a bit wimpy and Manon is a tad on the dull side. How this came to be is difficult to say. I got the feeling, however, that somewhere around the auspicious two-thirds mark, the author had nothing left to say, but perhaps needing the requisite word count, she dragged out the remainder of Manon with far too much narrative and descriptions of the scenery rather than letting the story come to a gripping end, thereby remaining fast-paced throughout.

The narrative in the last third of Manon is dauntingly overdone. From drawn out descriptions of the heroine's toilette to describing what a room looked like, to stating, restating, and restating yet again the heroine's thought processes, it gets to be too much. Nevertheless, the first two-thirds of Manon is simply too well done to give this novel anything less than 3 hearts.

FYI: there is a way to make Manon a highly enjoyable literary experience: around the time the book starts getting dull, simply skip to the last chapter and pick up from there, then...voilà! You have a solid 4-heart read.

--Tina Engler

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