Deceiving Miss Dearborn

When Horses Fly
by Laurie Bishop
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21682-2
When Horses Fly felt like a book that didn’t know what it wanted to be, and so the author threw everything and the kitchen sink into it. Regency? Check. Gothic overtones? Check. Light suspense? Check. Convincing romance? Ummm… forgot to check that one off. Or maybe even put it on the list. Oh well.

Cora MacLaren has made her way in the world caring for sick relatives in return for room and board. As the story opens, she’s about at the end of the line. Her current charge, an elderly great-aunt, wrote to the head of the family, Lord Wintercroft, before expiring. Surprisingly, he agreed that Cora could come to the Wintercroft estate. Cora is met at the local village by a rude man named Zander, who brusquely tosses her things into a carriage and takes her to Wintercroft.

Zander turns out to be Alexander, son of Lord Wintercroft, and he is just one of a motley assortment of relatives gathered under the decrepit roof of the estate. There is a young widow with a small son who patently seems to resent Cora. There are various cousins and such. Zander and his father don’t get along at all – in fact, they seem to actively hate each other. Finally, there is Lord Wintercroft, a domineering, rather spiteful older man who announces that he and Cora will wed.

Cora is taken aback, but (and this is an example of her reasoning) she decides that since the house is so poorly run, she will agree to the engagement so she can get things shipshape before crying off. In the meantime, someone seems to be trying to harm her and several alarming incidents take place. There is also smuggling going on in the neighborhood, and Zander seems to have taken her in dislike, though she finds him strangely attractive. What’s a do-gooder to do?

Cora may know her way around a sickroom, but in other respects, she’s an annoying ninny. She behaves unthinkingly in several situations, but none is more exasperating than the scene used to get Cora and Zander into close proximity. Zander has shown zero interest in Cora up to this point. She daydreams about him and wants to find out why he and his father seem to hate one another; even after Zander tells her it’s none of her business. This is in between worrying about smugglers and trying to fix up the house. Finally the author seems to realize she has included nothing romantic in this Regency romance, so she has Cora follow Zander into danger, with no thought to the consequences. This allows them to become trapped in a cave where they suddenly realize they’re in love with one another. Readers may not be able to stop hooting long enough to throw the book against the wall.

A dark, brooding hero in a strange house filled with odd people might have worked if this book had stuck to the Gothic tradition, but here it’s lost among the other sub-plots. Zander isn’t a bad guy. His attitude seems to be that he doesn’t really want to be here (and who could blame him) but since he has to stick around, he’ll try to act halfway decently. Lord Wintercroft is a smarmy bully who never really gets the set-down he deserves. And the ending is wrapped up in a huge rush.

When Horses Fly tries to be several things and succeeds at none of them. I could overlook the rest, but the lack of any kind of convincing romance makes this a disappointing read, indeed. There are much better Regencies out there. Think twice.

--Cathy Sova

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