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A Most Reckless Lady

The Lover's Charm
by Sandy Hingston
(Dell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22371-7
This regency-era historical has lots of charm ... literally. At first impression, the hero is the standard dissolute, womanizing rake who cares nothing for his responsibilities. The heroine seems to be a dowdy, unattractive blue-stocking whose interests in science absorb her to the exclusion of any feminine occupations. In fact, they're both sweet, charming, generous people who deserve each other. As for the other characters... now there's where magic creates complications.

The story begins in the Caribbean. Devil Jack is with his mistress Camille, the mulatto owner of the finest brothel in town, when he learns that his twin brother has died and he is now the new earl of Avenleigh. Jack accepts that his life in England is in the past and that his life is now with Camille, but Camille encourages him to return to England to claim his title and the fortune that must accompany it. Before he leaves, Camille obtains a powerful love charm from the gris-gris woman to bring him back to her.

When he arrives at Avenleigh House, Jack finds his aunt and two spinster cousins in residence. His aunt informs him that his brother had been betrothed to a Bishop Wilcox's only daughter, Priscilla, and that his is a dry house absolutely no alcohol. It is only when his cousin, Agnes, secretly brings him some of his brother's brandy that Jack begins to get some insight into the true situation in the household.

Jack calls upon the Wilcoxes and first spies Priscilla Wilcox pursuing butterflies. He is surprised by her horrified reaction upon seeing him.

Jack's plans to quickly return to the Caribbean are interrupted by his discovery that his brother has virtually ruined the family financially. Among his many extravagances were gifts to Vivienne, Lady Harpool. All innocent, of course.

There will be many unexpected twists and turns and some magical interference before Jack discovers that that true beauty and love spring from a good heart and Priscilla learns that it's possible to be a scientist and a woman at the same time.

One of the pleasures of this story is its original plot. Yes, there's the grasping immoral Other Woman who's willing to sacrifice everyone and anything to achieve her evil goals. Yes, there's the innocent virginal beauty who needs encouragement to emerge from her plain shell. Yes, there's the prodigal aristocratic son, banished for his profligate ways. But it's all been put together in a fresh and entertaining interpretation that defies usual expectations of the course of the plot. Ms. Hingstson is an author with an imagination. This isn't just another version of the same old thing.

The characters are strong and multi-dimensional, and as the story progresses, the characters acquire additional depth. Jack and Priscilla are the principal characters, but nearly all the characters are well-developed. The secondary characters are more than merely supporting players for the hero and heroine's drama. Vivienne is convincing in her under-handed maneuvers. Agnes is both pathetic and endearing. (The subplot involving her is particularly entertaining.) Bishop Wilcox's single-minded focus helps to explain Priscilla's character.

It doesn't matter if you believe that a magic charm could have so much power; there's more here to charm readers than a lover's token. If you enjoy a light-hearted tale with sweet characters, this charming book is a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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