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Marigold's Marriages
by Sandra Heath
(Signet, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-19682-1
I knew that Sandra Heath's new Regency romance would be unusual when I read the final sentence of the first paragraph:

At the reading of her late husband's will, Marigold would never have guessed that within weeks she would not only be deliriously happy for the first time in years, but that her enemies would all be changed into chickens and sold at Salisbury market!

Sure caught my attention!

What we have with Marigold's Marriages is a Regency fantasy romance, filled with ancient curses, druid rites, shapeshifters, immortal fowl, and threatened human sacrifice. If this is your cuppa tea, well, then have at it.

Marigold Arnold married in haste at sixteen, only to repent at leisure. Her husband Merlin had first seemed to love her, but then, under the baleful influence of his family and especially his brother Fulk, they had become estranged after the birth of their son Peregrine. Marigold had lived in the dower house with her son, although he is now away at Eton. Merlin's unexpected death in a horse riding accident did not leave Marigold too shocked.

What did shock Marigold was the will which Fulk produced. In it, Merlin claimed that their marriage had been false and that Peregrine is therefore a bastard. The family's estate and wealth is now Fulk's. He drives her from her home, almost penniless, telling her that she need not try to contest the will (which he admits is false) because he has "protection."

As Marigold makes her way to London to seek a position, she is accosted by two of Fulk's unpleasant friends at an inn. She is rescued by Rowan, Lord Avenbury, who even sets out to fight a duel with one of the nasty men. But when Lord Toby Shrike realizes who his challenger is, he bows out, because "the time is not right."

Marigold knows who Lord Avenbury is. He is a handsome, dashing rake who had been Merlin's unpleasant but beautiful sister's lover. When Rowan hears Marigold's tale, he does a surprising thing. He asks her to marry him. Partly for her son's sake, but mostly because she is attracted to him, Marigold accepts. She does not understand Rowan's remark that she will not have long to enjoy his husbandly attentions.

Finally, Marigold is told the truth. Her new husband's family is cursed. None of the holders of the Avenbury title have lived past their thirties and legend has it that the 13th Lord Avenbury (Rowan) will die on midsummer's eve in his 35th year. This ominous date is only weeks away.

At first Marigold refuses to accept that such a curse can be real. But the strange activities of some very unusual feathered friends convinces her that something very strange is going on. Moreover, one of the birds, a wren, can talk to her and tells her that she must "save them." When Fulk and his nasty friends arrive on the scene, it becomes clear to Marigold that he is somehow mixed up with the curse. He seems to suspect that Marigold has some powers, but she doesn't know what they are or how to use them.

Since I generally prefer my Regencies straight, you might be wondering why I am recommending Marigold's Marriages. Well, obviously, I like the heroine and the hero. Marigold is brave, resourceful and determined. Rowan, who acted selflessly to help a beleaguered widow, finds himself falling in love with his new wife. A nice romance. As for the fantasy elements, I guess they were no more improbable than those found in any such story.

What leads me to recommend Marigold's Marriages is the old "put down" test. Heath kept me turning the pages (when I should have been grading papers). If you like fantastical Regencies, this is a good one.

--Jean Mason

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