In a Wild Wood

Wild Angel
by Sasha Lord
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-451-22285-5
When the heroine of Sasha Lord's Wild Angel, Ashleigh, witnesses the murder of her parents, she vows revenge against the Scottish villagers involved in the atrocity. Highly intelligent and creative, and having been educated by her gypsy father in sleight of hand and illusion, Ashleigh pranks the superstitious villagers until they fear they are being plagued by the devil.

Enter the hero, Mangan, a warrior-turned-monk, who decides it is his duty to help the village by exposing the person or people who are playing tricks on them. Mangan is currently on a quest to find a lost relic, an attempt to wash his soul clean of some of the guilt he feels for the many lives he took in battle, and a stop in the village will do him no harm. He is soon frustrated though, first by the villagers who refuse to believe mundane explanations for strange occurrences and who are obviously hiding secrets, and secondly by Ashleigh, whom he rescued and resuscitated when she tried to drown herself. Ashleigh refuses further rescue, preferring to live alone on the mountain with only a raven for comfort and company.

The longer Mangan stays in the village, the more he comes to realize something much more sinister than mean pranks is in the air. He is made to feel decidedly unwelcome when the villagers' absent cleric finally returns, and Ashleigh's behavior becomes increasingly erratic every time he sees her. Since no one will discuss issues with him, Mangan has to try to solve the mystery of a man missing from the village, find the relic thief, and pursue the prankster all alone.

As difficult as these problems are, they are exacerbated by the fact that Mangan is, essentially, a moron. One example is the length of time it took him to ascertain that it was Ashleigh creating the mischief. Even allowing for eleventh century sentiment toward the roles of women, there was just no other explanation. Another example is Mangan's actions during a wedding that occurs during church services on his last day in the village. A heavily veiled, distraught woman is literally dragged to the altar and forced to marry right in front of him. Mangan's thought? "This doesn't seem right." When neither party is named during the event and later when the reluctant bride is forced again to sign the record, he thinks "How odd." THEN, when asked to sign also as witness to the marriage, he complies, because after all, he did see A wedding, never mind that he was signing as witness to what was probably a crime.

Ashleigh is little better. She's a pretty neat character except for the fact that although she's all alone in the world she keeps refusing Mangan because she's not good enough for him because of her parentage and because of some guilt of her own. Hello! Mangan is hot and rich (and dumb) and honorable and seriously committed to her.

The first three quarters of the book are pretty awkward. The characters all speak in English, which is fine by me because attempts to write the Scottish brogue can be annoying, but some dialogue appears to be an effort to imitate the brogue, but mostly seems to be bad grammar ("I be…"). And some of the dialogue is just wrong, like when Ashleigh protests that she's "just a poor gypsy." Did people of that descent ever call themselves "gypsies?" Also, as part of her bag of tricks, Ashleigh has a large mirror that she folds up to carry around with her. Shouldn't a mirror of that time be extremely rare and costly, as well as very heavy? Worse, at one point one of the characters heavily stubs his foot on a locket lying in the dirt. On a locket. Lying in the dirt. These aren't huge issues, but were distracting.

The plot was slow at first, but picked up speed in the final chapters and had a satisfying conclusion. The solution to the mystery is believable and the villains truly scary. Mangan even sharpened his wits to get himself and Ashleigh to safety. Lord's love scenes are always juicy, and in that aspect Wild Angel doesn't disappoint. Overall, this book is readable if you're willing to overlook its problems, but don't go out of your way to obtain a copy.

--Wendy Livingston

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