has also reviewed:

The Flower & the Sword

The Maiden & the Warrior

 
A Rose at Midnight
by Jacqueline Navin
(Harlequin, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-373-29047-0
***
In mid-nineteenth century England, Magnus Eddington, Earl of Rutherford, is suffering from a painful heart condition and has been told he will die soon. He has lived a dissolute life that he has come to regret. He wants an heir of his body to inherit his title. He instructs his brother to find him a bride.

Caroline Wembly interviews for the position of Magnus's countess. Her father died leaving his family utterly destitute. James, Caroline's young brother, is suffering from consumption and without money for medical treatment will surely die.

Magnus decides on Caroline as his bride, and papers are drawn up to finalize their agreement. Caroline is insistent that a set sum for her allowance be included in the contract. She does not inform Magnus of her brother and his poor health because she is fearful that he will not want James's illness to distract her from his needs.

Magnus's illness manifests itself through attacks of extreme pain and fever. Between attacks, he feels perfectly well. He and Caroline quickly establish a satisfying intimate relationship although she does not become pregnant immediately.

Caroline begins to fall in love with her husband, but her happiness is shadowed by his expected demise and the expenses of her brother's medical care. Caroline has heard rumors about Magnus's rakish lifestyle and has unpleasant memories of treatment at her father's hands.

Magnus, too, is becoming increasingly fond of his bride, but he cannot forget that she married him only for money and with the expectation that she would soon be a widow. Caroline's actions to resolve the need for additional funds for her brother will threaten the future of their marriage.

A three-heart rating means "acceptable," but that might not be a completely accurate representation of this book. There are several aspects of this story that didn't work well for me.

I want my heroes and heroines to be honorable, decent people. They can have a disgraceful past, be afflicted with innumerable flaws, but during the time period of the story, I want them to be worthy of the designation of hero/heroine. In my opinion, Caroline's actions place her below that standard. Her reasons her sick brother and her distrust of dishonorable men didn't seem to sufficiently justify her behavior. Magnus has behaved kindly towards her, and this is a pretty shabby way to repay him.

The level of poverty Caroline and her mother and brother are reduced to is never fully explained. Her father was the second son of a marquess so presumably her grandfather or uncle is the present marquess. Why didn't they turn to her father's family for help after his death? Similarly, what about her mother's family? Is it really necessary that Caroline needs to work in a shop and her mother take in laundry? There ought to be some explanation why they were without any family support whatsoever, since it had such a direct bearing on the story.

Magnus is another of those heroes whose sexual initiation was at the hands of an older woman when he was only a fourteen-year-old youth. This history seemed tawdry and tired. He could have had his introduction to sin and dissipation any number of other ways and be just as regretful of the wasted years. He also suffers from jealousy at thoughts that his brother and Caroline might wed after his death. At that time, marriage between the two would have been illegal for reasons of consanguinity. A man in Magnus's position should have been aware of that.

So why have I rated A Rose at Midnight acceptable? (By the way, the title is utterly meaningless in relation to the story.)

Because the author has successfully portrayed a couple with enormous emotional reservations gradually falling in love. First and foremost, a romance should feature romance between the hero and heroine. The attraction and growing love between Caroline and Magnus redeems this book, and I was drawn into the story in spite of my reservations about its flaws.

If the overall plot were as sweet as the love story, this could have been a much better book.

--Lesley Dunlap


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