Danger’s Promise by Marliss Moon
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13275-6
***
Marliss Moon’s debut romance, Danger’s Promise, is a medieval tale that enlists plenty of tried-and-true elements. While promising, there’s little here to lift it above the ordinary.

The story opens with the birth of a son to Christian de la Croix, known as the Slayer for his ferocity in battle. As his placid wife died before delivering the child, Christian took a desperate step and cut the babe from the womb, saving his life. Now the castle dwellers believe the local Abbot’s prophecy has come true, and Christian has murdered his wife.

Christian needs a nurse, and fast. Into the village comes Clarise, who has been sent by one of Christian’s enemies to poison him - or else her own mother and sisters will be hanged. Clarise gives her name as Clare de Crucis and offers to care for the child. Christian, desperate, takes her up on her offer.

Clarise decides she cannot poison this man, because she soon sees he’s decent and honorable. And therein is the problem with the rest of the book. Knowing that Christian is basically a good person, and knowing that he’d likely believe her if she told him she’d been sent by an enemy to kill him, Clarise refuses to tell him the truth. Instead, we get too many pages of “He’d kill me, I just know it” even though there’s nothing in the story to indicate this, and every indication that Christian would help her out of the mess she’s in. Clarise, in refusing to tell Christian the truth and attempting to contact her fiancé, who fled for the safety of the abbey and is now a monk, waits so long that Christian discovers her deception on his own, and of course refuses to believe her when she finally does tells the truth. Then, instead of trying to reason with Christian, Clarise does the typical heedless, unthinking sort of stunt that lands her right in danger’s path, necessitating a rescue.

Okay, forced conflict aside, the local abbot is scheming and Christian’s enemies are on the march. The story, unable to power along on conflict between the leads, shifts into an action-oriented romance in which the scene constantly shifts from castle to abbey to enemy fortress. It was rather exhausting keeping up with this. The romance between Clarise and Christian was pushed into the background, though their scenes together were plenty steamy.

I liked Christian, I truly did. The only marriage he’s known was to a cold, virginal woman who really wanted to be a nun. He has little experience with lively, passionate women such as Clarise turns out to be. He’s not one to fall into big misunderstandings, either, but is generally willing to listen to Clarise’s explanations when she levels with him. Clarise, for her part, stands up to Christian and makes him realize that all women aren’t meek and biddable. It’s fun to see their interest in each other grow into a desperate wanting. Unfortunately, Clarise runs out of smarts at a convenient point in the story, and the last third of the novel just runs out of steam.

Danger’s Promise didn’t quite live up to the promise it showed early on in the story. Marliss Moon shows she can set up a terrific premise for an interesting tale. I’ll look forward to her next effort to see if her characters can step out of the box as well.

--Cathy Sova


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