Seeking Celeste by Hayley Ann Solomon
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76629-5
*
Seeking Celeste is quite possibly the silliest Regency I have ever read. This book needed a strong dose of literary Ibuprofen. It's so swollen with flowery writing and preposterous dialogue that the story is all but obscured. Why use one adjective (and one must always use at least one adjective, it seems) when one could use three? But first, the story, such as it is:

Robert, the eighth Earl Edgemere, has decided to send his willful younger sister away to school. Kitty and her brother Tom have run off any number of governesses. Miss Anne Derringer has lost every penny in a bad investment and needs employment. As a companion to the aging Countess Eversleigh, she'll have ample time to carry out her nightly study of the stars and finish her secret treatise on comets. When Anne and Robert meet on a muddy road, she is struck dumb at his good looks. It's quickly apparent to Anne that the earl believes she is someone else, a companion hired to take his sister off to school. Any heroine with the slightest gumption would immediately set matters straight. In an incredible fit of waffling and non-action, Anne does nothing, (well, she thinks about telling him several times) and soon finds herself ensconced in his home, whereupon he kisses her and all her rational thoughts fly out the window.

After meeting the two children of the house and becoming instant friends with them, Anne and Robert breakfast together and she still doesn't tell him who she really is. The real traveling companion shows up, assumes Anne (dressed in a low-cut gown) is her charge, and proceeds to argue with her prospective employer, as if this would actually happen. Robert, his eyes opened to the true nature of governesses, decides to talk Anne into accepting the position as such. Then Kitty can stay home, and he can keep the delectable Miss Derringer nearby.

Robert soon decides he's in love with Anne, but surely she won't marry him because she's penniless and he's an earl. (Huh?) Meanwhile, Anne's investment in a merchant ship isn't such a bad one after all, if only the shipping firm can find her. And there's the business of Anne's true background. Where is she really from?

I might have gotten into this story if an editor had taken the author under her wing and ordered a wholesale slashing of the prose. Here's a sampling:

Anne's well-modulated tone was caustic, for she could only ascribe her tumultuous passions to fury.

A strange smile crossed Edgemere's wide, masculine, hopelessly sensuous lips. Anne was too drawn to them to look up and see that might be reflected in the golden eyes that regarded her, she knew, with steady avidity.

Amusement? She thought not, for her traitorous pulses were raging in her temples and a wave of heat threatened to envelop her entire, untutored body.

Tumuluous passions? Hopelessly sensuous lips? Traitorous pulses? Lest you think that I deliberately found the silliest passage in the story, let me state that this passage is the first three paragraphs of the frontispiece, which normally showcases some of the best writing in the book. And it continues like this, ad nauseum. Overdescription to the point of bloat. Everything that could possibly have an adjective attached to it does, and sometimes out of nowhere. When Robert first confronts eleven-year-old Kitty with his idea of shipping her off to school, he explains his reasons, and she protests tearfully that she'll be lonely. The next paragraph?

The words impaled the golden-haired, sublimely good-looking gentleman before her. Garbed impeccably in a morning coat of sapphire superfine, he seemed unaware that his profile singularly resembled one of the marble statues it was his passion to collect. Though he sported several fine white ruffles on his shirtsleeves, he preferred to remain otherwise unadorned. Modish but Spartan. My lord Robert never had much use for fripperies.

I thought this was a scene between brother and sister, something to show the reader the bond between them, perhaps to show the reader that Robert is a caring sort of guy. Instead, we segue into an overdone fashion report on our "sublimely good-looking" hero. (With a profile resembling a marble statue, of course.)

Any charms Robert and Anne might have possessed were buried under a mountain of overwrought writing. By the time I finished Seeking Celeste, I barely grasped the story, let alone had any enjoyment out of it. Perhaps some readers like this sort of prose, and if so, have at it with my best wishes. But I can't help wishing that an editor had sent this whole book back for a major rewrite. It certainly doesn't put romance writing in a good light.

--Cathy Sova


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