North Star by Amanda Harte
(Leisure, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-8439-4764-0
An unusual setting - Buffalo, New York in 1853 - and a different external conflict - the hero is a conductor on the Underground Railroad - provide an interesting background for Amanda Harte’s new historical romance. What prevents me from recommending this book unconditionally are certain problems with the character of the hero. Still, the book offers an interesting glimpse of a troubling era in American history.

Dr. Andrew Mueller is Buffalo’s most successful society doctor. He has parlayed his skill into a comfortable fortune and an elevated social position, quite an achievement for a man who began his life as an orphan immigrant. All of this would be threatened were it to be discovered that he also escorts escaped slaves on the last leg of their desperate journey to Canada and freedom.

Andrew has also made a name for himself as an expert in the treatment of hearing problems. It is this fact that leads Beth Simmons to seek him out. Her three-year old niece, Dora, lost her hearing after being hit by her brutal father. When Beth’s beloved sister died of influenza, she pretended Dora had died too and made the difficult trek to Buffalo to ask the famous Dr. Mueller to help the child. But Andrew doesn’t do charity work and rebuffs her appeals.

Beth is nothing if not persistent. Even after being assaulted and losing her small amount of money, even though she is forced to seek refuge in the establishment of the madam who rescued her, she persists in appearing at Dr. Mueller’s house, asking for his help. Andrew finds himself strangely attracted to this brave young woman, and when his housekeeper quits, offers the supposed widow the position for a year in exchange for treating Dora. Beth accepts and immediately shows her organizational abilities. She and Dora begin to melt Andrew’s cold exterior, but it is only when the doctor is wounded and must be cared for in secret that something more begins to develop between the two.

Beth has a very low opinion of the male of the species. A brutal father and brother-in-law had only strengthened her determination never to marry and her belief that love is a mere illusion. She begins to discover that all men are not the same.

My major problem with North Star centers on inconsistencies in characterization of Andrew. Why would he coldly refuse to treat Dora simply because Beth cannot pay his high fees, given his own impoverished background and his own experiences? Why would this man who is consumed primarily with amassing enough money risk everything by working for the Underground Railroad? Perhaps satisfactory motivations for these contradictions could have been provided, but I didn’t feel that the author was successful in doing so. Thus, Andrew was a less than compelling hero in my eyes.

There is lots of action and conflict, including the efforts of Dora’s evil father to cause problems and the dangers involved in escorting slaves to freedom in the face of the draconian Fugitive Slave Act. The medical material is also interesting and I trust accurately presented. Indeed, the romance often seems overshadowed by the other aspects of the story.

North Star is a perfectly acceptable Americana romance. If it lacks that special something that earns a book a four-heart rating, it nevertheless offers an interesting portrayal of an interesting era.

--Jean Mason

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