His Arch Enemy’s Daughter
by Crystal Green
(Silh. Sp.Ed. #1455, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24455-X
***
Some very strong strengths and some very weak weaknesses made my enjoyment of this book inconsistent. The first half was absorbing - but the second half kept losing me.

Ashlyn Spencer is the troubled and trouble-making daughter of, arguably, the most powerful man in Kane’s Crossing. It’s arguable because Horatio Spencer lost a lot of ground when Nick Cassidy bought his businesses out from under him then gave them to the town’s citizens, people the Spencers have ruthlessly exploited for years.

Ashlyn, who has also been badly treated by her family, lives in her own wing of their mansion, creating sculpture and jewelry, and demonstrating her contempt for her family by getting into embarrassing mischief at every opportunity. Her father actually paid the former sheriff to keep her out of trouble. But there’s a new sheriff in town now, and he’s not on the Spencer payroll.

Sam Reno (how’s that for a studly lawman name?) is Nick Cassidy’s half brother and, following the death of the previous sheriff, managed to get himself appointed by the town fathers without the Spencer stamp of approval. Sam and Nick hate the Spencer family because their father was killed in the Spencer toy factory under suspicious circumstances. There was no proof that his death resulted directly from the owner’s negligence but Sam sure would love to find some.

As a youngster, Ashlyn had a crush on Sam, who is nine years older. When he returns to town, she discovers he still makes her knees weak. Sam, to his consternation, finds himself fascinated by one of the despicable Spencers. Both inclination and circumstance are stacked against him, making it impossible to avoid her.

Let’s talk first about the book’s strengths. A big one is the early development of the relationship between Sam and Ashlyn and, because it’s a romance after all, this earns bonus points. Wary because of the family feud, and conscious that every small-town eye is on them, Ashlyn and Sam do a wonderful courtship dance for the first half of the book. They can’t help watching each other. They get caught watching each other and feign indifference. They get a little braver. They chicken out and run away. They can’t stay away and circle back. It has delightful tension and reality.

And there are other aspects of Ashlyn and Sam that are equally vivid. Her longing for the love and approval of a family that doesn’t value her; his fear of emotional involvement, sharpened into an instrument of self-torture by his fascination with Ashlyn and his understandable bitterness toward her family.

But Ashlyn’s character is also one of the story’s biggest weaknesses. In spite of the fact that I could understand and empathize with her desire for her father’s acceptance, she’s so unrealistic and so immature that it robbed me of an enormous amount of sympathy.

At 24, she’s still living in the home of the father she despises for his greed even while she wants his approval. She dabbles in sculpture and jewelry and, in her spare time, runs around town thumbing her nose at her family and acting out like a fifteen-year-old. She does occasional good deeds, but hides them, afraid that someone will find out she’s a human being and not a juvenile delinquent. I liked Ashlyn and wanted to sympathize with her, but the self-pitying self-absorption of “the world’s most privileged prisoner” kept getting in my way. It was a pretty plush cell and she wasn’t trying very hard to get out.

Sam, a good guy with nice moves, was slightly less problematic although I have to say (not for the first time) that “I’ll never love again” is one of the most overused, least convincing motivations in the genre. Ms. Green actually does a better-than-usual job with this, until she kicks the props out from under it near the end of the story, leaving me scratching my head and thinking ‘huh’?

Ultimately, if the heroine’s maturity isn’t an issue for you, you will likely enjoy the total book more than I did. If you think “poor little rich girls” should get over themselves already, this is probably not your read.

--Judi McKee


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