has also reviewed:

Autumn Vows

Lady at Risk

The Runaways

 
Wild Roses by Barbara Hazard
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19534-5
***
Wild Roses does not conform to the usual style of a Regency romance. First, it is written in the first person point-of-view; and second, in many respects it more closely resembles a mystery/thriller than a romance. Two men are interested in the heroine, but the heroine is resolved that she will never marry again and is too frightened to be much concerned with romance anyway.

Lucy Blake, Lady Blake, is being stalked. Widowed four years earlier at the age of seventeen when the elderly Lord Blake died, Lucy has been paying Jaspar Hayes an annual sum of money to ensure his silence and to keep his distance from her. Now Lucy is sharing her London house with the dowager duchess Faith Abbott (both were secondary characters in the author's Autumn Vows) and spies Hayes following her on the street and loitering outside her home. He even confronts her as a hired servant at a party.

Gareth Powell, Faith's godson, observes Lucy's extreme fright and asks if he can be of assistance, but Lucy denies anything is amiss. She tries to avoid Hayes by claiming indisposition and remaining inside whenever possible.

When Faith Abbott suggests leaving London for her dower house in the country, Lucy is eager to leave and escape Hayes. To her surprise, Gareth will accompany them and stay at the dower house while his new home is being renovated. In the country, Lucy meets the outgoing Bradford Grey, Viscount Epstead, who is immediately taken with her beauty and soon declares he intends to marry her. There is considerable animosity between him and Gareth, but Bradford is frequently in her company.

Lucy's peace, however, is soon disturbed when she discovers evidence that Hayes has followed them. As events escalate and Hayes's actions become more threatening, Lucy is forced to disclose her connection to him. Gareth declares that he does not believe her. Lucy is terrified that the whole truth will be revealed. That way lies ruination. Is no escape possible?

Because it is written in the first person, the reader is intimately acquainted with what Lucy thinks and feels. Lucy's utter terror is so consuming that she is somewhat oblivious to other persons and events around her. Thus, Gareth's and Bradford's interest in her scarcely makes an impression on her, and as a result it's of less importance to the reader, too. It's hard to build romantic tension when one-half of the couple is so preoccupied with other events that she doesn't even know romance is in the air.

Lucy's fear and desperation, however, are strongly conveyed. I wanted to haul off and smack Bradford. "Look! She's terror-stricken. She hasn't got time for this nonsense now!" On the other hand, Lucy's resistance to accepting Gareth's assistance seemed equally foolish. What difference is it going to make how he regards her if she's dead? At the appearance of the first drop of blood on the pillowcase, I'd be "opening my budget" to anyone who offered to help.

Even though Lucy is the narrator, the reader isn't in possession of all the facts of her relationship to Hayes until the very end of the book. Enough hints were dropped, however, that I'd pretty much guessed the secret well in advance. Even if the mystery doesn't remain completely hidden until the last page, the author's most successful at maintaining the mood throughout the book.

I appreciate that Ms. Hazard has tried to break with tradition and write an original book. Whether it is successful depends on what a reader is looking for. If a reader is only hoping to enjoy a light-hearted Regency romp and a sweet romance, she's going to be disappointed. If, however, she's looking for something unusual, this might be a welcome experience.

--Lesley Dunlap


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