Scandal's Captive by Mandalyn Kaye
(Zebra, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5819-5
Lady Thacea Worthingham, the only daughter of the late Sultan of Ardahan, is married to career diplomat Sir George Worthingham when she first encounters the scandalous libertine, Marcus Brandtwood. Marcus is immediately intrigued by Thacea, but her strong morals make the kind of relationship he would like impossible.

When she later comes to him to request his help in selling a valuable Ardani dagger, he uses the opportunity to resume his pursuit of her. She proves as obdurate as before, but not for the reasons he suspects. Fear of her abusive husband, rather than her principles, keep Thacea chaste. Still, despite her terror of George, she embarks on a friendship with Marcus, because she believes that his reputation in society is undeserved and that the ton wholly underestimate him.

Marcus and Thacea could easily have come in boxes marked, "Instant Romance Hero and Heroine. Just add ink," for all their individuality. He's cynical, dissolute, hard-bitten, uncaring and has a terrible reputation. She's kind, gentle, warm, loving and sees past his bitter exterior to the loving man beneath. If you've read more than a few romances, you have undoubtedly come across their types. Probably more than once. I have nothing against archetypes; in fact, skillfully handled, they have powerful resonance. Some of the best-loved romances deal with exactly this kind of hero and heroine.

Unfortunately, nothing in this book is skillfully handled. Descriptions of Ardani customs make it clear that it has been modeled on Muslim societies of the Middle East. The romance of the desert, and all that. Yet at no time in the story is any mention made of religious differences between Thacea and her husband, or Thacea and Marcus. I felt that gap keenly. At one point in the book, Marcus is introduced to George Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame. The only problem is that George Clark didn't go with Meriwether Lewis; his younger brother William did. Titles are handled incorrectly and people behave with an informality that I found unbelievable.

If the book had been well-written I very likely would not have noticed any of this. At the very least, I would not have been so annoyed by it all. However, the first half of the book is written in a very distracting style, paragraph after paragraph of sentences with the same rhythm, like a drum throbbing in the middle of the night: Thump-thump-thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Thump, thump-thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Then, later, when the drum is put away, the vague descriptions come out: snow is amazing, her dress is breathtaking, his shoulders are astonishing.

One or two of these problems would not have been enough to sink this book, but so many of them in one story were enough to make reading it a struggle. I can't quite say avoid this bookóbut I can advise you to think twice before picking it up.

--Katy Cooper

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