Brazen Angel by Elizabeth Boyle
(Dell, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-440-22412-8
****
Dell picked a sure thing with this year's Diamond Debut winner. Brazen Angel is a tightly-written, complex, engrossing historical set during the French Revolution, offering readers a twist on the Scarlet Pimpernel theme. If this first book is any indication of her talent, Elizabeth Boyle is going places.

Giles Corliss, Marquess of Trahern, is an agent of the Crown. There's political turmoil in France as the nobility are getting their heads lopped off. His best friend, Webb, is missing in Paris and assumed to be a victim of the guillotine. Giles is pledged to marry a woman he's never laid eyes on. And a mysterious woman, known as the Brazen Angel, is systematically, er, picking up noblemen at parties, going home with them, and drugging them senseless to steal their valuables.

Giles is intrigued by this woman, especially after his friend Monty nearly becomes her victim. Rumor has it she may know something about Webb's death, too. He is determined to find out.

Meanwhile, Sophia D'Artiers is leading a double life. Mousy Lady Sophia by day, she is the betrothed of one Giles Corliss, an arranged marriage to a man she's never met. By night she is the Brazen Angel, determined to secure the funds necessary to bring her family out of France to safety. And her disguise is such that Giles doesn't suspect, even after they do meet. His duty lies in a loveless match to provide an heir. His heart and his passion will lie with the mysterious Angel.

The story moves back and forth from London to Paris as Sophia employs her many disguises in the quest to find her family. There is a wealth of historical detail here, vividly presented and not always pretty, but definitely realistic. This is not a rosy view of the Revolution. You'll hear the rattling of the tumbrils through the streets. But in relief, the growing love between Giles and Sophia is all the sweeter.

I had a few minor problems with some lack of logic in the plot. For instance, Giles and Sophia first meet at a masked ball, and he later follows her to the house of her next victim, where things go awry and Sophia is nearly hurt. Giles hauls her off to his house, determined to find out more about this creature. They are together for what seems to be the better part of an hour, and even come close to a sexual encounter, but he never removes her mask. This defied belief. In the next scene, the mask simply disappears.

I also had a bit of a problem with the premise that Giles would agree to marry a woman he's never laid eyes on just to fulfill a vow to his dead father. I thought this might be taking the "man who doesn't care because he can never love" theme a bit too far, especially given his instant attraction to the Brazen Angel.

But overall, Brazen Angel is an excellent first novel and was a pleasure to read. The prose is clean, almost spare; not even a hint of lavender. The characterizations are well-done, the dialogue realistic, the historical detailing is top-notch. It would be hard to ask for more.

By the way, the story behind this contest winner is nearly as entertaining as the book itself! We invite you to find out just what it took to get the final entry submitted… and read about the real American Hero who made it happen.

--Cathy Sova


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