The Night the Stars Fell

Ride For the Roses

Ride the Winter Wind

 
Ride the Wind Home
by Christina Kingston
(Jove, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-515-13510-0
*
With a title like Ride the Wind Home, readers might expect a breezy, briskly paced road story. Instead, they are subjected to a book that goes nowhere at a pace that could make a snail weep with frustration.

At 16, Diana Huntley is the abused bride of Baron Huntley. Diana’s father, a determinedly obtuse Vicar who lives in a vague dream world “sheltered from reality” by his parishioners, married Diana off to the loutish Baron to get the rambunctious, opinionated Diana off his hands.

One day, the Duke of Smythington saves Diana and a puppy from humiliation at the hands of her brutish husband’s uncouth friends. The two make an indelible impression on each other. Although David is “corpulent” and therefore “not handsome,” he makes Diana feel “cherished and safe” by frightening off her tormentors. For his part, images of the lovely young girl sustain David during his service in the war against Napoleon, and the horrors he endures after the war when he is captured by slavers and forced to labor in the mines of a Barbary sultan.

Five years after their fateful meeting, Diana is a widow, blessedly free of her vicious husband. Inexplicably, in spite of the fact that she is independently wealthy, Diana returns to live with her father. To her horror, the “saintly” Vicar plans to marry her off to yet another unsavory character. Instead of using her money and position to start a household of her own, Diana demonstrates her maturity and intelligence by taking a very small amount of money and a very large portmanteau, and running away from home in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, since this “woman in charge of her own destiny” is patently incapable of taking care of herself, her flight is noted and followed by ‘David Smythe.’ The reader knows that this apparent lowly seaman is actually the Duke of Smythington, intending to take a walking tour of England searching for the peace of mind that his year of slavery stole from him. Soon, David is repeatedly saving the harebrained Diana from her own silliness as well as protecting her from the apparent pursuit of her father’s approved suitor. Naturally, she finds his protection intrusive and high-handed.

Diana is mystified to find herself thinking of her beloved hero, the Duke of Smythington, when David is around. (Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that his weight loss makes him totally unrecognizable.) Since Diana’s hearing and eyesight seem otherwise normal, this forces us to assume that she’s not very bright. It is, unfortunately, an assumption that Diana proves correct with monotonous regularity. Are there readers out there clamoring for heroines with the intelligence of a tree frog? Someone must think so.

The book further labors under pages and pages of exposition. Scarcely a thought goes unexamined, no matter how insignificant. Moments intended to be tense or exciting are smothered by all this turgid explanation.

The physical journey, however, is a footrace compared to the protagonists’ inner journeys. Neither character changes appreciably, they just sing the same chorus over and over. David arbitrarily decides early on that he must hide his true identity so Diana will fall in love with his real self and not his wealth and position. He spends the rest of the book adoring her from afar and waiting for her to fall in love with him, while she chastises herself for being attracted to a ‘mere seaman’ and feeling disloyal to her hero, the duke. These feeble motivations are scarcely enough to sustain a dozen pages - after several chapters they are positively soporific. Potentially interesting observations, like the fact that Diana is clearly not the same girl David rescued years earlier, go unexplored.

There’s quite a bit of manipulative cuteness with animals, and towards the end the author attempts to make things more interesting by introducing a supernatural element out of the blue. While the book was badly in need of some magic, the introduction of this gratuitous subplot just clouds already murky waters.

I waded through this book with dogged determination. I can’t recommend that you do the same.

-- Judi McKee


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