Ride For the Roses

The Night the Stars Fell
by Christina Kingston
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-13041-9
The Night the Stars Fell has all the trademarks of a standard Regency novel - a dark, saturnine hero who fought with Wellington on the Peninsula, a heroine who holds up passenger coaches, a castle near the Channel, and smugglers who hide their goods in seaside caves. Oh, yes, there is also an unredeemedly evil villain. Too bad all these plot elements never gel into an interesting story.

Lady Katherine Halsted, widowed Countess of Rushmore, is the coach-robbing heroine. Kate doesn't actually rob any stagecoaches, or any of the other vehicles that pass close to Cliffside, she just searches them for stolen jewelry. Her brother, Hal, has been accused of being the Mayfair Bandit, and - since Hal has broken his leg - it is up to Kate to clear his name. The Bow Street runners Kate hired to do that have discovered that the jewelry is smuggled into France from a small port near Cliffside. Hence the necessity for Kate to ride out at night and stop every coach that travels the road to Clifton-on-Tides. Why everyone who travels by coach travels at night is never explained.

Besides trying to clear Hal's name, Kate is also acting bailiff for Cliffside castle. Her brother, Josh, the sixth Marquess of Cliffside, is too busy playing at being a smuggler to oversee his estate. Josh's lifelong friend, Gordon Mallory, is not only the leader of the smuggling operation, he is also the Mayfair Bandit and has designs on Kate. He figures that once he gets Hal transported for theft, Josh will let him marry Kate, and then he can pay her back for all her rebuffs.

Think I'm giving away too much of the plot, telling you all about Mallory's evil plans? I agree with you, but in fact the author gives all this away on page 30 of a 300-page book and hints at more and worse. Such early disclosure did not increase the tension or mystery of the story.

One of the first coaches Lady Katherine stops is that of Chalfont Blysdale, Sixth Earl of Blythingdale. Bly is on his way to Cliffside to stay while he searches for two of his former officers who have disappeared in the neighborhood of Clifton-on-Tides. When Josh tells Kate that Bly will be visiting, she is not pleased. She is even less pleased when she realizes her guest is the man she held up the night before.

Despite Bly's sinister aspect - he dresses all in black - and the possibility that he may recognize Kate as the youth who held him up, Kate is instantly attracted to him. The feeling is reciprocated. "Here was no drawing room miss," he thinks immediately, although I wasn't sure how he knew that, just from kissing her hand. In fact, I never found their romance convincing. Despite being told, over and over, from their first meeting, of the attraction they feel, no sizzle ever came off the page. Sizzle need not be sexually explicit. Georgette Heyer created sizzle even though her lovers were rarely shown kissing.

I hang out with 8-year-olds quite a bit, and kissing and love talk makes them turn away from the screen and go "Ble-eh." Some of the dialogue in The Night the Stars Fell made me turn away and go "Ble-eh," too. For instance, Bly doesn't like his first name, Chalfont. Kate asks him what she can call him, and he says it doesn't matter. He starts to kiss her, and she murmurs, "Oh, my darling." Bly says, "There is the name you shall call me. Darling. From now on, to you, I am 'Darling'." I'm trying to imagine any man I've ever met uttering those words, and I can't. Ble-eh.

I've rated The Night the Stars Fell PG even though the most we see the lovers do is exchange kisses and do a little heavy petting. However, there is a nasty sub-text involving the villain's plans to rape and humiliate Kate that I would want to discuss with any young reader. Better yet, I'd prefer to steer that young reader away from Christina Kingston's book altogether and toward a livelier and more interesting work.

Nancy J. Silberstein

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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