Portrait of a Bride

To Tame a Wild Heart

Touch Not the Cat

Portrait of a Man
by Tracy Fobes
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52578-X
Creating an alternate world is a big challenge. Unfortunately, this book is a how-not-to manual.

A couple of years ago, Alexis Connor’s sister, Jordan, disappeared when her home burned down. Jordan, a scientist working on a fertility drug, was declared dead although her body was never found. Alexis, a paranormal investigator, doesn’t believe her sister is dead.

One night, while investigating a supposedly haunted house, Alexis is shocked to see a figure stepping out of a portrait of Abe Lincoln. She can barely see him in the dark, but she likes it when he falls on her, kisses her and puts his hand on her breast. Then the mysterious apparition flees before she can summon her co-investigators.

In fact, the man who stepped through the portrait is Rourke of Calandor, from the Province of Blackfell “thousands of years in the future.” In that future, a plague originating in the present day has rendered women incapable of bearing female children. To keep the human race going, artisans use photographs to paint detailed portraits of women from pre-plague times using something called Prima Materia. These allow them to travel to the past through a portal in the painting. They take the woman back to Blackfell where she is immediately married to the man who commissioned the portrait. She also immediately gets the plague that prevents her from having female children. The brides are supposedly willing, but we’re not privy to any conversation in which someone tries to sell a woman this peculiar deal.

Unfortunately, the corrupt Guild of Artisans allows only wealthy and influential men to obtain wives. Rourke belongs to a group of rebels that calls itself Families for All that is trying to undermine the Guild and “make women accessible to all worthy men.” Rourke has come back in time for Alexis’s help in finding her sister’s fertility research notes and to try to prevent the plague from being released.

Okay, here’s what I’d suggest you not do, if you were writing this book:

Don’t create an overly convoluted situation that raises logical questions you can’t answer. For example, if this plague has been decimating the population for thousand of years, and only the rich and powerful are getting brides, where did all these other “worthy men” come from? Rourke is an unmarried man who’s supposed to be really good at sex, but there are no unattached women, so who’s he been practicing on? And where on earth did the Guild find a realistic picture of a woman from ancient Egypt?

Don’t give your hero and heroine a really important mission – like, oh, saving humankind – then send them on vacation. Lexi and Rourke spend little time actually doing anything to save the world. And when they find out that Rinehart, the scientist they need to talk to, can’t schedule a lunch appointment with them for a month, Lexi and Rourke decide it’s no big deal. So that’s pretty much what I think, too.

Don’t make your characters cardboard stereotypes, and at least consider giving them half a brain. After having a month to figure out how to convince Rinehart that his research will result in a devastating plague, Lexi’s best thinking is, “I know! I’ll tell him that Jordan materialized to warn me…” Rourke’s response? “Good idea.” Yep, hard scientists buy that ‘materialization’ story every time.

Don’t transplant a person from another time, and then only give them cute problems. Blackfell is one of those quasi-Medieval futures, where people ride horses and fight with swords, but Rourke drives himself around Philadelphia in a Porsche, unaccompanied. He needs to have a condom explained to him, because they don’t use contraception in the future – but then he and Lexi never use a condom, and he’s apparently got the withdrawal thing down pat. Oh, right – don’t make your story inconsistent.

And please, please don’t just end the book with none of its issues resolved, simply because there’s going to be another book in the series. It makes me wonder why I needed to read this one.

If you don’t do all of the above, then your story might not be a confusing muddle with no sense of direction or urgency.

-- Judi McKee

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