Scandal in Venice

The Spanish Bride

A Loving Spirit by Amanda McCabe
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20801-3
A Loving Spirit was perhaps meant to be a whimsical Regency, complete with charming ghosts who help engineer the romance. In a nutshell: it didnít work.

Cassandra Richards is a recently-orphaned young miss who left behind her familyís plantation in Jamaica and traveled to England to stay with her Aunt Chat. Cassie has brought along a companion, Antoinette, who is the daughter of a Jamaican priestess and a clairvoyant of sorts. The two young women accompany Aunt Chat to the estate of a friend, the Dowager Lady Royce. Cassie is excited; it seems that Royce Castle is reputed to be haunted, and Antoinette will surely be able to sense the spirits. Cassie canít wait to explore the place.

Phillip, the Earl of Royce, isnít happy to have yet another unmarried miss descending on his home. Heíd much rather be left alone to write his book on the Peloponnesian War, but his matchmaking mama has other ideas. Cassie is attracted to Phillip right from the outset and romanticizes him as looking like a poet, until he informs her he doesnít believe Royce Castle is haunted. Then she decides heís obnoxious. But heís still good-looking. Phillip is startled to see a young black woman descend from the carriage, and later asks Cassie if she is a slave. Cassie responds in a perfectly PC manner that of course not, her father would never keep slaves on their plantation. This was so patently revisionist that I nearly laughed out loud.

Lady Louisa and Sir Belvedere, two of the resident ghosts, soon make themselves known to Cassie and Antoinette, as well as nearly everyone else in the book. The reaction of the mortals is basically, ďA ghost? Well, how do you do?Ē Nobody seems too surprised to find ghosts sitting around the house, which didnít work for me, either.

The ghosts want Antoinette to summon the spirit of Lady Lettice, a long-dead resident of the castle who dies under mysterious circumstances. They also want to make a believer out of Phillip, who is becoming more and more intrigued with Cassie. Soon Philip and Cassie are going for rides and paying social calls. Sheís dragging him out of his dusty library, and heís attempting to get her to read some of the classics.

This story meandered along, never really catching fire. There didnít seem to be much of a plot, and when a villain was introduced later in the story, it felt like an attempt to inject some energy into the story. Phillip and Cassie arenít bad sorts, though she doesnít come across as particularly mature. They just never seem to click on anything but the most basic level. Phillip, with his absentminded neglect of his clothing and absorption in ancient Greece, had a lot of potential to be interesting just as he was, but ended up just another Regency romance hero who gets dragged out of his shell by the energetic and unconventional heroine.

As for the ghosts and Antoinette, this secondary plot ended up having to carry the story in some places. Lady Louisa and Sir Belvedere and their machinations might have worked better in a longer novel, where they werenít competing with the lead couple for page space. Here it felt like they were overshadowing the romance.

A Loving Spirit ended up a ghost romance with a bit too much ghost and not enough romance.

--Cathy Sova

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