The Bliss

The Flower & the Sword

The Maiden & the Warrior

Meet Me at Midnight

A Rose at Midnight

The Viking's Heart

Princess of Park Lane by Jacqueline Navin
(Berkley, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-425-19326-8
Princess of Park Lane is the first in a series of books called the Mayfair Brides. When Lady May Hayworth discovers her late brother, a notorious rake, has fathered several children over the years, she decides to play fair godmother to them. That's the premise for the series and the first installment leaves much to be desired.

The first project on May's list is Michaela Standish, a young woman of modest means who has always felt out of place in her family. Michaela lives with her mother, a widow, and her two twin sisters, Delinda and Delilah. While her sisters think about clothes and husbands, Michaela is interested in educating the poor and social reform. What an unusual trait for a Regency era heroine.

When Michaela finds out the truth about her birth, she is oddly nonplussed and is soon caught up in the whirl of society, shopping and romance. At her very first ball, she meets the enigmatic Major Adrian Khoury, a Napoleonic War hero whose legend is a hot topic of the ton.

What can one say about Adrian? Maybe that he comes off so badly at first that he almost single handedly torpedoes the book. When he first meets Michaela he assumes she is a courtesan, and sets off to bed her. Why does he assume she's a courtesan? For one, she lets her gaze rest on his a little longer than proper, and those eyes she's gazing with are "gypsy eyes". That and she flirts a little with him. Yes, that's some solid proof for you.

As the book goes on, it becomes obvious that Adrian's mistaken identity was just a justification on his part to seduce a woman he thought was hot. Even after he finds out that Michaela is a gently bred woman, he schemes and plots to get her in bed. He constantly puts her in situations that could ruin her reputation and seemingly doesn't give a damn. It's all about Adrian and his pants.

Michaela's part in this is to be overcome by her emotions and not stand up to Adrian's advances, even though she knows they could be damaging. This is very disappointing because she is otherwise a very bright, capable heroine. She stands up to her mother, her sisters and although she often stands up to Adrian, she inevitably caves.  Still, when Adrian offers to make her his mistress, she puts him in his place but good.

Some of Adrian's other tricks include flirting with Michaela's sister to make Michaela jealous. This is because Michaela has the gall to consider other suitors when she could have Adrian's fine offer of being a kept woman.  Finally, realizing that the only way he's going to get Michaela in bed is to marry her, that's what our intrepid hero does.

It's at this point in the story that Adrian starts to redeem himself. He starts to confide in Michaela about the guilt he has harbored since the war, something that makes him emotionally distant. This confidence echoes some earlier glimpses of a decent Adrian seen when the pair is trapped in an art gallery during a rainstorm. It adds up to a more emotionally developed character than the reader is led to believe through Adrian's actions. The damage has been done by his previous odious behavior however, and the reader never fully warms up to him.

Still, it wouldn't be fair to blame everything on Adrian. The books other problem is too many subplots. We have Lady May, who has relationship issues based on an abusive first marriage and her lover Robert, who acts more like a Lord than the stable hand he claims to be. Also up is Delilah and her quest to become something other than "one of the twins". Then there is the dynamic between Michaela and her mother. Not to say any of these stories is uninteresting, on the contrary I wanted to read more, particularly Delilah's metamorphosis. It's just that because there are so many plots and so little time, they are rushed and underdeveloped.

Part of the reason this book was such a disappointment is that the reader can see its potential. Michaela is a charming heroine, who has just the right mix of toughness and vulnerability. There is also potential for some wonderful emotions from Adrian and his experiences in war. Sadly, the author starts him off as such a dud that when his softer side is shown it feels like an act.

--Anne Bulin

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