In a Wild Wood
by Sasha Lord
(Signet, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-21029-8
**
In a forest near her home, Malalia, a spoiled and uncontrolled maiden, discovers a man bound to a tree and decides to use him to explore the mysteries of sex that have been forbidden to her. She is unaware that he is more than the wanderer he claims to be, and with the help of her maid, Malalia moves him to a deserted cottage to have her way with him.

But this is no ordinary man. Brogan OíBannon is a nobleman intent on winning his heritage from his twin brother, and he easily overcomes Malalia to change her experimentation to something more closely resembling rape. Unfortunately, her father discovers them in each othersí arms, and demands their immediate marriage.

And this is where the plot gets more complex. Brogan and his twin, Xanthier, have been fighting each other for their fatherís estate almost since they were born and no one could verify which was the older and therefore the heir. Their father, the Earl of Kirkcaldy, vowed that the twin who gained the largest fortune, married a docile wife and produced the first child would inherit everything. As a result, the twins have spent most of the subsequent thirty years trying to achieve that goal, and when Xanthierís men trap Brogan in the forest near Malaliaís castle home, he is just days away from winning the challenge.

But the delays involved in dealing with his beautiful, sexy, but incredibly stubborn new wife mean that the final part of his journey takes far longer than heíd expected. Then when they finally reach Kirkcaldy, the Earl decides to wait till the twinsí brides give birth (they are both pregnant by now) to decide who his heir will be, locking Malalia and Brogan into months of angry confrontations before the final resolution.

While the cover copy and the quotes from reviews on Lordís first book are enticing, the first brutal sex scene between Malalia and Brogan was a shocking change of pace, rape thinly disguised as vigorous sex. Malaliaís naÔve attempts to seduce a stranger are hard to identify with, given the setting and date, but Broganís continued sexual assaults on her were even more difficult to read. Her emotional transformation from fear to enjoyment was too quick and easy to seem even close to reality, as was his change from brutal abuser to loving husband. The portrayal of Xanthier and his wife Isadora as the evil twin and his harpy wife was stereotypical, and the Earl was little more than a cardboard character, bewailing his mistake at setting his sons against each other and completely ineffectual at being able to resolve his past mistakes.

The subplot involving the twinsí mother is mildly interesting, as is Malaliaís ability to communicate with animals, a talent inherited from her mother, but these things are unable to overcome the unrealistic and rather pedestrian plot. As the hero and heroine move from enemies to wedded bliss, Xanthier and Isadora move in the other direction, since they didnít marry for love, but to ensure Xanthierís inheritance. Inevitably, the good is rewarded, the evil punished, and all loose ends neatly tied. For those who enjoyed Lordís first novel, In a Wild Wood will no doubt be a similar read.

--Joni Richards Bodart


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