The Banished Bride

Code of Honor

A Diamond in the Rough

The Hired Hero

A Lady of Letters

The Major's Mistake

Second Chances

The Storybook Hero by Andrea Pickens
(Signet Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-451-20731-9
Tired of the same old, same old? You know what I mean: stories set somewhere in England sometime in the 19th century. Then perhaps you ought to give Andrea Pickens’ unusual Regency romance a try. Yes, the hero and heroine are English and yes, the book begins and ends in Merrie Old England. But for most of the story, we find ourselves in the vastness of Russia during Napoleon’s invasion.

How did a nice English lady and a not-so-nice English gentleman find themselves in such a godforsaken spot? Therein lies the tale.

Octavia Hadley is a familiar heroine, the penniless woman at the not so tender mercies of her relatives. When she effectively discourages the attentions of her cousin’s husband with a well-placed knee to the groin, she finds herself exiled to Moscow to serve as governess to the relative of a British diplomat assigned to the city.

Alexander Sheffield is his noble family’s black sheep. Blamed - unfairly - for the accident that killed his older brother, he has tried to live down to his family’s expectations and succeeded very nicely. Now his family needs him; a young cousin, a Russian nobleman, has been orphaned and his English mother wrote before her own death to her relatives to protect her son from his evil uncle. So Alexander finds himself on his way to Russia, perhaps because he wants to prove to that he is not the wastrel he and everyone else believes him to be.

Octavia and Alexander meet one night on the ship. A storm has brought back memories of the sailing accident that took his brother’s life and Alexander has sought relief in drinking. When Octavia encounters him, she is able to see past his boorish behavior to the man who needs comfort. But she avoids Alexander thereafter.

Octavia goes off to Moscow where she meets her charge, Emma, a bright young girl who has been sadly neglected by those who should be caring for her. Her employers are called to St. Petersburg (or perhaps they are aware that Moscow is in danger) and leave Octavia and Emma to face the threat of the French alone. The two flee the city, only to face equal peril on the road.

Alexander locates his cousin but the threat to Nicholas’ life is still real. The two must likewise flee through the early Russian winter. Alexander’s and Octavia’s paths cross again, just in time for him to save her and Emma from the villains who are all too happy to take advantage of two lone women. There is no course other than for the four to join together to try to make their way to safety.

As you can well imagine, the little group faces innumerable perils, from Nicholas’ uncle, from the weather, from the French. All four show great courage, pluck and intelligence in thwarting these dangers. Alexander and Octavia come to admire each other. They discover they share the same interests, that they like each other, and perhaps that they are beginning to love each other. But there are forces driving them apart.

What makes The Storybook Hero so compelling is Pickens’ depiction of the dangers the party faced. One can almost feel the bone-chilling cold of the autumn snows and sense the dangers that pursue them. One can also perceive how these dangers led Alexander and Octavia towards love.

The Storybook Hero is a real page turner. It offers exciting adventure and an entertaining romance. It demonstrates that, even within the constraints of the Regency romance, a talented author can move beyond the limits that seem to have become commonplace in the romance genre. So if you are looking for something a bit different, give The Storybook Hero a try.

--Jean Mason

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