The Star-Crossed Bride
by Kelly McClymer
(Zebra, $5.50, G) ISBN 0-8217-6781-X
*
Following The Fairy Tale Bride, The Star-Crossed Bride is the second book in Kelly McClymer's "Once Upon A Wedding" trilogy. The plot is threadbare and lacking in believability, the dialogue and narrative is redundant, the hero is a hand-wringing wuss, and the heroine couldn't have frayed my nerves more thoroughly if she tried. All of the aforementioned negative aspects considered, I'm afraid McClymer's latest is a big thumbs down.

The penniless viscount Lord Valentine Fenster and the dowered heiress Lady Emily Weatherley are in the midst of eloping when their marriage plans are discovered and brought to a halt by Emily's cousin Simon, the duke of Kerstone. Valentine, feeling guilty about having scandalized Emily with the attempted elopement, vows to the duke that he will never go near her again.

Three years later, however, Valentine finds out that Emily has been affianced to Lord Granbury, a marquess with a penchant for murdering his female servants. Determined that Emily will never be forced to marry Granbury, Valentine sets out to call a halt to their engagement, equally determined to resist the lure of breaking his vow and marrying Emily in the process. As much as he loves Emily, he will not disgrace her by having her marry a man such as himself who cannot afford to give her the finer things in life.

If there is one surefire way to kill a romance novel it's to create a dud for a hero. Valentine is, without a doubt, the most faint-hearted, trembly-kneed weakling I have ever had the displeasure of reading about. Throughout the entire book the hero becomes overset and indecisive about everything and nothing. Should he run away and marry Emily to protect her from the marquess? But if he does what will the society gossips say? And what happens if...blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.

The only thing I can be grateful for is that Valentine does manage to get Emily away from the marquess without swooning in the process. That is, unfortunately, the most masculine accomplishment one can pin on this hero. Even when Valentine finally relents and realizes he has no course left to him but to marry Emily, he does it in secret then disguises himself as a footman to protect her within her family's home rather than take her back to his own estate. By the time the consummation scene came around and Emily had to force herself on Valentine to get him to take her to bed, I was thoroughly over this hero.

Not that the heroine is much better. Emily is one of those irritating female protagonists who is forever embroiling herself in asinine situations in an effort to "save the day" if you will. Every time she formulates an idea or a plan of action you might as well brace yourself for they will inevitably blow up in her face a few pages later. The nail in the coffin for this book, however, revolves around the lack of believability in the plot and the sometimes confusing narrative. When Emily loses her virginity to Valentine, for instance, she has this mind-shattering orgasm after he apparently does something to her. Just don't ask me what that something is because even after reading and rereading the passage four times I have no clue as to why Emily spontaneously combusted the way she did. One minute she's rubbing his back and the next she knows the joys of being a woman. If only life were that simple.

The negative aspects mentioned above are not, unfortunately, the only problems inherent in this novel. Making matters that much worse are the employment of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and one-dimensional secondary characters as plot devices. I debated back and forth with myself for half a day as to whether The Star-Crossed Bride (which does have a couple of winning moments) deserves a one or a two heart rating. Given the amount and sheer variance of the mechanical, plotting, and characterization problems intrinsic to this novel I'm afraid I have to go with a rare one-heart

--Tina Engler


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