Kissing a Stranger

The Proposal

The Seducer
by Margaret Evans Porter
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80772-6
The Seducer, set in late eighteenth century Isle of Man, is the sequel to Kissing a Stranger. In my experience a sequel rarely equals its predecessor, and The Seducer is no exception. The book amply displays the author’s love for the traditions of the uncommon setting as well as her knowledge about the manufacture of linen textiles, but the scant plot is inadequate to support a full-length story.

Kerron Cashin, Lord Garvain, returns to the Isle of Man to learn that he has arrived only a day after his twin sister Kitty’s death. Kitty’s friend, Ellin Fayle, the tavern-keeper’s niece, informs him of her death. There is some mystery surrounding Ellin’s birth and the identity of her father, but Manx custom considers her illegitimate birth to be of less importance than it would be in England.

Kerr, the brother of the heroine in Kissing a Stranger, has abandoned his rakish life style and is resolved to restore the family’s fortune by encouraging the manufacture and export of Manx linen. His father is earl of Ballacraine, but the family has been forced to lease the ancestral castle to Finlo Standish, a wealthy commoner and local pariah. Although it is considered scandalous for a member of the aristocracy to engage in trade, Kerr’s ambitions are aided by Kitty’s sketches of Manx symbols and scenes, which she intended for printing on linen.

Ellin has long admired the handsome Kerr and wants to be his lover. Raised in a atmosphere of superstition, she seeks a magic potion from the ben-obbee, a woman charmer, to make him desire her. The pretty and light-hearted Ellin attracts Kerr and the two become lovers. Finlo Standish, however, observes them at one of their trysts, and forces Kerr to marry her. Ellin believes that he is marrying her out of love.

Immediately after the wedding, they depart for England in order to further Kerr’s business enterprises. Ellin quickly has to learn to adapt to a very different culture. It is in London that she will learn the truth about her marriage and her own origins.

What The Seducer lacks is conflict. Even though romances typically feature a happy ending, some uncertainty about the outcome makes for a more engrossing story. In The Seducer there is no sense of momentous conflict that could possibly create doubts in a reader’s mind. The few minor points -- Will Kerr make a go of his linen business? Will Ellin get her man? Will Kerr fall in love with her? -- seem a foregone conclusion. There’s a brief man-against-nature segment in the prologue as Kerr’s ship is caught in a storm at sea, but that thread is quickly dropped never to reappear. The Big Secret surrounding Ellin’s birth seems contrived merely to create a Big Misunderstanding. It’s far too convoluted to be believable, and most readers will figure it out well in advance.

In addition, Kerr and Ellin are not very dynamic characters. For a good part of the book, Kerr’s feelings for Ellin are relatively shallow -- along the lines of: “I could use a mistress, and she’s pretty and willing, plus she’ll have her own place which would be mighty convenient.” I want a little more depth of feeling than that. Ellin, meanwhile, is less than lofty-principled herself. She’s always had this thing for the local hunk and is willing to do anything to get him. I’m not crazy about heroines who hold out well past the point of reason, but frankly, Ellin is just plain easy.

Much of the characters’ actions and dialogue involve the production of flax and the manufacture of linen, including spinning, weaving, and printing. The book goes into considerable detail about Kerr’s efforts to establish his business from holding meetings with craftsmen and retailers to descriptions of the fabric of the gowns Ellin wears as a walking advertisement. A major theme in the story, it does absolutely nothing to advance the romance.

Readers who were charmed by the hero and heroine in Kissing a Stranger may want to catch up on what became of them. Readers who are unfamiliar with the previous book will probably find it easy to resist The Seducer.

--Lesley Dunlap

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