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The Sound of Snow
by Katherine Kingsley
(Dell, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22389-X
***
A young Joanna Carew left England and the home of her uncle, aunt, and cousin Lydia for her villa in Italy in 1812 because, in spite of the scandal, she refused to marry the man who tried to assault her. In Italy she met and married the Conte di Capponi. Through the years she has maintained a correspondence with Lydia. Now six years later, the widowed Contessa di Capponi returns to England with Bunch, her former governess and companion, because Lydia has died. Joanna had promised Lydia to look after her young son Miles if something ever happened to her.

Joanna is not expected by the staff at the residence of Guy de Salis, the Marquess of Greaves, but she is allowed to stay when she informs them she is actually there to see Miles. Joanna is deeply distressed to see that the five-year-old is silent and withdrawn and that his nanny seems extremely harsh in her treatment of him.

When Guy returns home, he first takes Joanna for Lydia's ghost because there is a strong resemblance between the two women. Guy is unhappy that Joanna is residing in his home because he knows of scandals in her past and believes her to be a woman of low reputation, but he is impressed with her defense of Miles.

Joanna is affected by Guy's cold, angry manner and feels sympathy for the unhappy life her spirited cousin must have had with such a husband. Guy discovers that Joanna's claims of Miles's condition are accurate, and he fires the nanny. He and Joanna agree that she should stay on as the child's governess. She gradually wins over the household staff and finds an approach to the child's wounded soul.

There are more wounds to heal than Miles's and secrets to reveal as Joanna and Guy find a love they didn't expect.

While reading this book, I felt a strong sense of deja vu. The originality that had been so evident in some of the earlier author's books (her No Sweeter Heaven is one of the all-time best romances) is sadly lacking here. The plot seems a patchwork of an assortment of overused story lines. Countless other books have presented almost exactly the same exile before scandal, good look alike overcomes lover's animosity caused by wicked woman, caring maternal type saves damaged child, and emotionally injured by war-hero plots (for example, Jane Aiken Hodge's Savannah Purchase and Lisa Gregory's – aka Candace Camp – Light and Shadow). After reading the first few chapters, I knew the course of the rest of the book.

Some strategic editing would have been beneficial – the book is overlong so there are sections, particularly the middle of the book, that drag. Moreover, the ultimate resolution of the plot complications is simply too convenient to be believed. Only fiction is so accommodating.

The character development – ordinarily one of Ms. Kingsley's strengths – is uneven in The Sound of Snow. Lydia's character in particular left me unconvinced. She seems too conniving and duplicitous to be as unintelligent as she is supposed to be. She is presented as shallow and selfish, but superficiality does not equate with true wickedness. Furthermore, I felt that there was insufficient foundation to support Lydia's status as a bad mother. Would a bad mother have the foresight to extract a promise from her cousin to care for her young son?

Joanna, on the other hand, is almost too perfect. It is fortunate that she's capable of losing her temper and has a risqué sense of humor (there is one very amusing scene in the stable), or she'd be unbearable.

Guy is a more believable character. His disastrous marriage with Lydia has left him understandably reluctant to trust and love a woman who looks just like her. (He is also a man ahead of his time. He compares Joanna to dynamite a full half-century before its invention.) His neglect of his son seems blameworthy, but it is not surprising in light of the fact that men of his rank in that time period rarely had any involvement in child care. The gradual connection between father and child is one of the most moving aspects of the book.

Unlike many novels with an aristocratic setting, the downstairs staff has a role in the action, but the individual characters themselves are generally sketchily drawn and undeveloped. It is, however, nice to see a book where the servants do more than dress and undress the main characters and serve meals.

Ms. Kingsley is a talented author whose writing has featured compelling characters and realistic dialogue. If the plot in The Sound of Snow were of the same quality as the other story elements, it would be much more satisfying book.

--Lesley Dunlap


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