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A Poet's Touch by Valerie King
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5901-9
***
The title of this Regency romance is very misleading. A more descriptive title would be "Lady Alison Grows Up." This story is primarily about character development. And the character being developed is Alison.

The title refers to the opening scene where Lady Alison, daughter of the Duke of Amesbury, wants to touch Lord Byron's coat believing that the mere touch will lead to excitement in her life. (There's mention of another story where Lord Byron's kiss on a character's hand led to a thrilling adventure and marriage.) Alison is observed by Lord Richland who thinks she is besotted with the poet. He resolves to enact a scheme of revenge against Alison as well as her father and follows her in pursuit of the poet. That soon leads to a devastating kiss.

Lord Richland has returned as a nabob from India after leaving England in the aftermath of his father's scandalous death and loss of fortune. He is determined to clear his father's name and reveal the names of the villainous perpetrators who had besmirched his father's reputation.

Lady Alison is attracted to the handsome and slightly exotic Lord Richland, and the shallow, immature miss decides to attach his interest in order to raise her status among society acquaintances. Lord Richland is intrigued by her even as he scorns her for her superficiality and idleness and sees through her stratagem.

"Have you never known a day's hardship in your life? Even a moment's suffering?" he asked on a half-laugh.

She was taken aback. "Well, of course I have," she responded. "Everyone has. My governess used to make me practice my arpeggios until my fingers ached."

He clucked his tongue. "Poor little Alison," he cooed.

Gradually, Alison's affection for Richland grows as she becomes involved in his search for the truth, a truth which threatens her own family. Richland, in turn, is increasingly attracted to her even while he proceeds with his plans and his intention to return to India once they've been successfully concluded.

This is Alison's story. Richland (who doesn't seem to have a given name or surname) is only the spark that forces Alison to mature in her goals and values. The Alison of the beginning of the story is more interested in dress and society functions than in any emotional commitment. The Alison at the end of the story is deeply committed to Richland whatever the consequences to herself. (She still can't resist one dress, however, because she knows the color will look so good with her hair!)

I would have been more enthusiastic about this book (and correspondingly have given it a higher rating) if there had been more passion in the story. I'm not referring to sexual passion. I mean an intensity that comes from the characters confronting and resolving issues. The overall tone of this book seems to be nearly as shallow and superficial as Alison herself. I never felt particularly moved by the characters' problems or their struggles to resolve them. Maybe it's too much to ask for emotion like Scarlett O'Hara crying "I'll never be hungry again!" to a vivid sky, but Richland has had an emotionally damaging past—a little more intensity would be justified.

But there's nothing offensive about the characters or the orderly progression of the plot. A reader who's looking for an easy, light read to wile away a few hours might consider this a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap


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