Someone Like You

The Bride of Black Douglas
by Elaine Coffman
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-596-4
Despite several conscious attempts to do so, I simply could not get into this book. The protagonists fail to elicit empathy, the narrative is daunting and overly poetic, and the storyline inconsistencies are legion. I am an admitted sucker for any romance novel featuring a Scottish hero, but ach lassies...this book dinna make the grade fer me.

Meleri Weatherby has been betrothed since birth to the Marquess of Waverly, a handsome but sadistic lord with a cruel streak that runs a mile long. Determined not to marry the dastardly duke-to-be, she runs away from him and lands instead in the arms of Robert Douglas, an impoverished Scottish earl who has been ordered by the English king to wed an English lady.

Robert has been given three weeks to find and choose an English heiress on his own; if he fails to comply the king will merely choose a bride for him. Robert needs a wife with a large dowry, Meleri needs a husband to protect her from the marquess, so the duo set out to help each other, never expecting to fall in love in the bargain...

Before we go any further, let me admit that this book and I got off to a bad start from the getgo due to the fact that within the first few pages there is a major historical inaccuracy. More specifically, in the second paragraph of the first chapter the author refers to the heroine as "Lady Meleri Weatherby" but then a few pages later we find out her father is a baronet. Such is not possible. In order for the heroine to have been born "Lady" Meleri Weatherby her father would have to rank an earl or better. As the daughter of a baronet, Meleri's title is nonexistent and she should be referred to as no more than "Miss".

The heroine is referred to as "Lady" numerous times throughout the read, so each time you hit such a reference it only serves to remind you of the fact that there is not only an error, but one that keeps repeating itself time and time again. Call me a stickler, but I gritted my teeth each time I read such a passage.

If The Bride of Black Douglas' only shortcoming had been that one inaccuracy, however, it still would have been a solid read. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Making matters worse is the fact that the entire novel is glutted with daunting narrative, and yet paradoxically, the author also has a tendency to give secondary characters who aren't important to the plot way too much dialogue.

During a scene in the first chapter, for instance, two of the heroine's servants engage in a conversation that goes on for three full pages...three long, dry, boring pages that consist of dialogue between the maids. Worse yet, you don't really learn anything new through their banter that hasn't already been touched on or that will be touched on again in a few pages. In other words, you are made to suffer through three unnecessary and easily axe-able pages.

Unfortunately, unnecessary and easily axe-able pages are more the rule in this novel than the exception. Unimportant and inane details are given with far too much frequency, which in turn causes the book's pace to slow down considerably. Deciding if she likes what she's wearing takes Meleri two pages, describing the scenery is double that, and thinking requires a great deal more. All of this serves to make it so that the hero isn't introduced until page 45 and the protagonists don't bump into each other until page 66.

Not that meeting each other improved the novel to a great degree. Never have two characters failed to stir my empathy more. Robert Douglas and Meleri Weatherby should have been named "Gloomy Gus" and "Petulant Paula". The author was probably striving to make the hero come across as brooding and the heroine as feisty, but instead Robert seems like a whiner and Meleri a spoiled brat. Meleri kicks Robert, hits him with her riding crop, runs him over with her horse...come to think of it it's no wonder the man is a whiner.

All of those criticisms aside, The Bride of Black Douglas does have some winning moments and some solid prose. The major problem with the novel as a whole is that the interesting aspects of it seem to wax and wane with too much regularity making it easy to become distracted from the plot. Considering the book as a whole, I'd definitely think twice before purchasing this one.

--Tina Engler

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