The Last Arrow

Pale Moon Rider

 
Swept Away by Marsha Canham
(Dell, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-23521-9
****
There are certain authors whose manner of expression is so eloquent, I re-read passages simply because I like the way the words wrap themselves around my mind. Marsha Canham is one of those writers. Her choice of words and turn of phrase perfectly express what she wishes to convey. One of her impeccably constructed sentences often portrays more than a full paragraph written by less capable hands (such as mine).

Swept Away opens in the summer of 1815. Annaleah Fairchilde has once again refused the eligible suitor her parents have selected, and so has been banished to her elderly great-aunt Florenceís desolate seaside estate, Widdicombe House. It is hoped that several boring weeks away from the many diversions of the London season will help put an end to Annaís stubborn conduct.

Unfortunately, things become anything but boring when Anna discovers a manís body washed up on the shore near her Auntís estate. The badly injured man is Emory Althrope, who is wanted for treason for assisting Napoleon in his escape from Elba.

Emory was a frequent visitor to Widdecombe House as a child and Aunt Florence refuses to believe Emory has grown into a man capable of the deeds of which he has been accused. With the assistance of a houseful of odd-ball servants, Anna and Aunt Florence nurse Emory back to health. When he regains consciousness, Emory has no memory of who he is or how he came to be washed up on the shore.

As his strength returns, Emory realizes his presence is a danger to Anna and Aunt Florence, but before he can slip away, someone tips off the authorities and Emory is forced to kidnap Anna in order to make his escape. While traveling together, Anna becomes convinced Emory has been falsely accused and insists on remaining at his side while he tries to discover the truth.

Emory is a complex character, his frustration in trying to prove his innocence while dealing with his memory loss is convincingly portrayed. Anna, on the other hand, was somewhat problematic. I tried to make allowances for the fact that she is written as truly a product of her time -- an immature, sheltered noblewoman who is suddenly thrust into a volatile situation she is ill-equipped to handle. Still, her actions sometimes made me cringe.

The secondary characters jumped off the page: Annaís foppish brother, Anthony, her rejected suitor, Lord Barrimore, and especially, the hilarious Aunt Florence, who stole every scene in which she appeared. Iíd love to read this womanís memoirs.

A book with such lyrical writing and strong characterization should have kept me firmly enmeshed in the story. Unfortunately, I found myself wrenched from the book too often by plotting that simply strained logic. Especially in two pivotal scenes near the end of the book. The story would have been far stronger had the focus remained on the growing relationship between Anna and Emory and not on their attempts to single-handedly save the world.

Even so, I drank in every beautifully written word. If you are willing to suspend disbelief just a bit, I think you too will be happily swept away by Marsha Canhamís latest book.

--Karen Lynch


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