As Marthe Arends:

The Lion's Shadow

Noble Intentions by Katie MacAlister
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-843-94965-1
You need to be in the right mood to appreciate Noble Intentions. If the humor strikes you right, youíll be laughing out loud. Or perhaps not, if the heroineís over-the-top antics grate rather than charm. This is one book thatís difficult to rate.

Gillian Leigh is a half-American miss, come to London from Boston to accompany her cousin Charlotte during her Season. Gillian has a tendency toward causing Unfortunate Incidents, usually through her own clumsiness, and she also has an Unfortunate Habit of speaking her mind without realizing sheís said anything aloud. During her first ball, she sets the curtains on fire. But her tall, redheaded form attracts the attention of Noble Britton, Earl of Wessex.

Noble is a widower with an illegitimate son, and rumor has it he killed his first wife. In truth, she was a deceiving witch and he now distrusts all women because they are all scheming bitches, etc. But he wants to remarry to give his son a mother and to fill his nursery, and Gillian, with her obvious freshness and innocence, catches his eye. Gillian is captivated by his looks and the thought of having a husband as dashing as Noble. They are wed by the end of chapter two.

Noble takes Gillian to his country house and installs her there to make friends with his little boy, Nick, who hasnít spoken since something scared his speech away. He then returns to London to dismiss his mistress. Gillian finding a letter from the mistress, decides to follow and take little Nick with her. What she finds is Noble, tied naked to a bed, having been hit over the head when he entered his mistressís house. But who would want to harm him?

The rest of the story involves Gillian gradually breaking down Nobleís defenses and helping Nick overcome his trauma. Along the way, they must find out who is behind the attempts on Noble.

Once canít help liking Gillian, though her antics arenít always amusing. But humor is perhaps the most subjective element a story can have, and scenes that left me groaning will likely have others laughing. Noble is no surprise in the hero department, and his constant pondering that loving another woman would open himself up to all sorts of pain like he suffered with his deceitful first wife felt emotionally dishonest. Is it really pain heís feeling at her betrayal? Or rather a deep embarrassment at having been conned into believing she was something she wasnít? The old ďmy first wife was a bitch, so all women are bitchesĒ passes for conflict in too many novels and really smacks of petulance and immaturity. A little introspection and brutal self-examination would be nice.

The tone the author strives for here is more of a Screwball Regency. To that end, itís largely successful, as long as the focus is on Gillianís unintentional blunders as she tries to get Noble to come around. Readers who appreciate this type of humor are in for a wonderful ride. And Nobleís comeuppance at Gillianís hand, after his arrogance, is satisfying. She brings him to his knees and itís a fine resolution, indeed.

Noble Intentions was mostly amusing, certainly innovative, and in many ways a welcome relief from the usual Regency fare. Kudos to Katie MacAlister for trying something different. This might be just the cure for your winter blahs.

--Cathy Sova

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