Taming Angelica by Alice Chambers
(Leisure, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-4682-2
***
As the title implies, in Taming Angelica, Alice Chambers has reprised Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, updating the setting to London in 1865 and substituting a young Bostonian, Angelica Hamilton, for Petruchio's Kate. Chambers brings an appropriately tongue-in-cheek style to her narrative and turns up the heat on the romantic encounters of her Victorian pair. The style works, for the most part, but the reactions of the innocent Angelica to her Petruchio's lovemaking struck a discordant note.

Angelica Hamilton is a Victorian miss with an unusual ambition. She has read Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" and now wants to visit Tierra del Fuego and the Galápagos and see the giant tortoises and the finches herself. However, even though she is the sole heir to her father's corset-manufacturing fortune, she has no money of her own and cannot afford passage on a ship bound for South America.

Because Angelica's outspokenness has outraged all the eligible suitors in Boston, her father has sent her to London to find a husband, preferably a titled husband. Angelica has no intention of abiding by his wish, but she is delighted to put an ocean between her father and his bullying ways. Chaperoned by her delightful spinster aunt, Minerva Hamilton, Angelica views her London stay as a staging area for the trip of her dreams.

Will Claridge is the impoverished younger brother of the Duke of Brathshire, and he quickly realizes that Miss Angelica Hamilton is the answer to his problems. He needs her fortune to keep his Derby contender in oats until race day and to fund the stable he wants to establish afterwards. Besides her fortune, however, Will finds himself fascinated by Angelica's unpredictable behavior and independent spirit…and of course there is that lush body.

At their second meeting Angelica asks Will to help her steal some of her own jewelry and hock it to pay for her passage. After pointing out the dubious ethics behind this transaction, Will obliges her. For his part, Will schemes to compromise Angelica so that she has to marry him but not so completely that she is ostracized by society.

Despite his unscrupulous tactics with Angelica, Will comes across as a generally good sort. Although not an intellectual, he has a well-developed sense of humor, is socially adept, and is able to appreciate Angelica's good qualities despite her eccentricities. I had more difficulty believing in some facets of Angelica's character.

As Angelica is portrayed, she is a young lady who needs taming. In the course of this story, she repeatedly acted thoughtlessly -- and not particularly believably -- without heed for the likely consequences of her actions. I had the most difficulty, however, with the contrast between Angelica's extreme innocence and her uninhibited response to Will's physical overtures.

After Will and Angelica sell her diamond necklace, traveling home in a cab, unchaperoned, Angelica questions Will…a 35-year-old, unmarried man…on why he has had affairs with married women. She is so innocent that she doesn't understand Will's explanation, "A man has needs." They proceed to have a mildly amusing conversation which implies that she grasps very little of his tactful explanation. Nevertheless, every time he approaches her, she allows him whatever liberties he takes -- it is always Will who backs away, never Angelica. While this makes for steamy prose, her responses were so unlikely that my willing suspension of disbelief suffered a severe setback.

Although Chambers' flippant tone works most of the time -- I particularly liked Will Claridge's interior monologues -- it has an annoying tendency to slip from flippant to arch. Combining that with the inconsistencies I found in Angelica's character, I rated Taming Angelica three hearts.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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