The Proposition

Sleeping Beauty

The Indiscretion by Judith Ivory
(Avon, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-380-81296-7
Judith Ivory is an “authors’ author.” I can’t count the number of times I have heard other writers praise her lyrical prose. But she is also a readers’ author. She knows how to create memorable characters, tell enjoyable stories, and, well, let’s say that few authors are better at creating sexual tension. The Indiscretion may be my favorite Judith Ivory romance ever.

Lydia Bedford-Browne is the protected daughter of an English viscount. At twenty-five, she silently chafes against the restrictions imposed on upper class young women in 1899. As a minor rebellion, she attends her maid’s wedding and sets off alone across Dartmoor by coach to visit relatives. The only other passenger in the ramshackle vehicle is a beat up American in a Stetson and cowboy boots.

Sam Cody has had a bad day. On the way to his wedding, he stopped to rescue a woman who was being mugged. The mugger’s friends joined the fight and Sam found himself much the worse for wear. He also is late for his wedding. Perhaps his fiancée would have forgiven him were it not for the fact that this is the second time this happened. Wanting to avoid the wedding guests, Sam decides to travel by coach.

It turns out to be an exciting trip. The inebriated driver loses control of the horses and loses his seat. After a dangerous ride,Sam and Lydia find themselves lost somewhere on Dartmoor.

Thus has Ivory set up a familiar but ever intriguing scenario: two people from very different worlds stranded far away from the constraints of civilized society. Add a dollop of danger, and the stage is set for a breaking of social barriers and a loosening of inhibitions. Alone on the trackless moor, Lydia and Sam get to know each other quite quickly and they both like what they find.

Of course, all idylls must come to an end. Reality intrudes. Lydia - or Liddie as Sam calls her - has been marvelously indiscreet but can envision no future with Sam. But she is in for a surprise as Sam’s true identity brings him right into her world.

Ivory has created an entrancing heroine. A sickly child, Lydia does not realize her own strength or abilities. Her experiences on the moor change her opinion of herself and challenge her views of the world. Sam is a much more complex man than he appears on the surface. What is so enjoyable about Ivory’s characterizations is the way she gradually uncovers the pasts that have shaped her hero and heroine. What is also delightful is the interplay between two strong and interesting people. We really see that the two are falling in love, even if they don’t realize it.

The author recreates the society of late 19th century Britain with a sure hand. She also uses - if lightly - a real historical event to enliven her story. Particularly interesting is her description of the popular sport of archery. Lydia is a champion archer; with her bow in her hand, and only then, does she feel in control.

Nowhere does Ivory’s writing talent show more clearly than in her descriptions of Dartmoor. I could almost smell the heather and see the fog suddenly descend, isolating Lydia and Sam from the world. I could picture the tors and the eerie but beautiful landscape. But all of her descriptive paragraphs, whether of people or places, have the same evocative power.

I can always tell when I really identify with characters. If I find myself worrying about the pain that I know they are going to have to suffer before they get to their happy ending, then they have come to life for me. Lydia and Sam came to life for me. I have enjoyed all of Judy Ivory’s books but, as I said above, The Indiscretion has become my new favorite. This one is a keeper.

--Jean Mason

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