Autumn's Flame

A Lady in Waiting

A Love For All Seasons

 
Lady in White by Denise Domning
(Signet, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40772-5
***
Lady Arabella Purfoy (Belle) is the plain daughter of a famous beauty -- a beauty who has been sent to the Tower for plotting against one of the Queenís ladies-in-waiting. Now, Belle is summoned to the court of Queen Elizabeth where she is informed that she will marry Squire Nicholas Hollier by proxy and that his family title will be restored. Since the Queen knows that Belleís stepson is denying a portion of his fatherís estate to Belleís little daughter, she offers to rectify this injustice. However, if Belle refuses to marry Hollier, she will join her mother in the tower.

Belle is reluctant to marry again but knows she has no choice. Almost immediately, she is confronted by evidence that political intrigue and religious conflict surround the impending marriage. Hollierís proxy, his steward James Wyatt, accuses of her of spying on Hollier. And the queenís proxy, Sir Edward Mallory, who fears that his connection to the Duke of Norfolk will ruin him, tries to enlist her as his spy. Belleís fears are compounded by reports that Hollier is badly scarred and is a practicing Catholic.

During the long journey to Hollierís castle, Belle feels attracted to James Wyatt, and she tries to avoid Sir Edward, whom she does not trust. She refuses to be drawn into a dispute over her husbandís religion.

Belleís first impression of the castle where she is to make her home is discouraging. The servants seem to be uniformly hostile, and the housekeeper, an elderly crone, tries to frighten her by reports of a ghost who sends unwanted brides to their death. When she finally meets her intended bridegroom, although he is masked, Belle is struck by his kindness to her. She no longer fears the marriage.

James, who is attracted to her, is upset when he discovers that Nicholas has wed Cecily so that the marriage with Belle will be illegal. He is struck by the irony that Nicholas is being forced to marry a woman he does not want, the same woman James loves by cannot marry.

With so much intrigue swirling around them, will Belle and James ever find happiness together?

About a quarter of the way through Lady in White I felt decidedly confused. There were many references to things that had occurred previously but were treated as though I ought to be familiar with them. Finally, it occurred to me to make a trip to the TRR Archives. I discovered that Lady in White is a sequel to Lady in Waiting -- all those gaps in knowledge could perhaps be filled by reading the earlier book. This is not one of those sequels that stands alone.

My colleague, Judith Flavell, fell in love with Nicholas in Lady in Waiting. Sadly, in Lady in White, it is apparent that Nicholas is dying. There is an overall gloomy feeling to the story, and the deathwatch doesnít help.

Belle is a loving and conscientious mother and a considerate mistress to her servants. In return for these virtues, she has been cheated by her late husbandís son, forced into an unwanted marriage by her treacherous mother and her sovereign, compelled to enter into an illegal marriage, and treated with scorn by the housekeeper. And thatís in addition to the ghost. The only thing she has going for her is Jamesís obvious admiration. Altogether, it makes for a depressing state of affairs.

While James is a decent hero, there is a lack of romantic chemistry. Belle and James both come to the conclusion that they love each other, but there has been no convincing development to that moment of realization. The general impression is that a romance novel requires a romance, therefore James and Belle must be in love. The romance between Nicholas and Cecily has more believable passion, but itís hard to have much hope there is going to be a happily ever after for the two of them.

What this story does have is a flurry of subplots that threaten to overwhelm the romance. There are political conspiracies, religious conflicts, scheming courtiers, disloyal servants, a precocious child, failing health, a secret marriage, a doomed love, an unrequited love, lots of messages about plots against the queen, and a ghost. Itís no wonder the romance gets pretty much lost in the shuffle.

This book is most likely to interest those readers who have been hoping to revisit the characters in The Lady in Waiting. For other readers, this sequel may not hold much appeal.

--Lesley Dunlap


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