Guarding an Angel

Lady Meg's Gamble

More Than a Dream

True to Her Heart

A Rose for Julian
by Martha Schroeder
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6866-2
A Rose for Julian suffers from end-of-the-trilogy-itis: too many characters and too many incidents are legacies from the earlier books so it doesnít stand well on its own. Itís well-written with a very nice hero, a sympathetic if slightly too tortured heroine, and a cast of supporting characters who are assets to the story. If youíve read the first two novels in the Angels of Mercy trilogy, More Than a Dream and True to Her Heart, I can recommend this third one as well worth your time. If you are unfamiliar with those two books, I advise that you start with one of those and leave this one for later.

Rose Cranmer was one of three nurses who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea and became fast friends. At the wedding of her friend and fellow nurse, Catherine, Rose catches sight of Sir Ronald Bolton. Terrified that he saw her, Rose tries to leave but is intercepted by the Countess of Eversleigh. The Countess wants to enlist Roseís help in restoring her son Julian Livingston to health. Badly injured in the Charge of the Light Brigade, Julian has been physically and psychologically deteriorating. Rose knew him as a patient in Scutari and tells the Countess that he probably will not want her for a nurse. The Countess believes that the confrontation between Rose and her son may be the only hope. Furthermore, she will hide Rose from Sir Ronald. More for the protection from her nemesis than for the generous promised salary, Rose accepts the offer.

Rose finds that inactivity and life as a recluse have weakened Julian. In spite of his resistance, she manages to get him moving again and slowly recovering his strength and mobility. Roseís fears that Sir Ronald will manage to track her down again are realized. Now her fears are multiplied. She fears that he will again make her his victim and even worse that he will reveal her past that will lose her the respect of Julian, the man she has come to love, and other friends who know her only as a capable nurse. She knows that her past means she will never be able to tolerate a manís touch or to marry. Can she ever truly escape?

The best feature of A Rose for Julian is the strong, appealing characters. The good-hearted hero and brave heroine are only two of the winning characters in this book. Julianís parents, the Earl and Countess of Eversleigh, and Henry Blankenship, a wealthy, self-made industrialist, are the kind of characters who grace romances too rarely - middle-aged and dynamic. Itís also a pleasure to see that Julian has loving and supportive parents - the trend lately seems to endow too many romance heroes with absent, neglectful, or even abusive parents. This is a nice guy with a nice family.

Rose is the tortured character. Her fear of Sir Ronald is revealed in the first few pages, but the full dimensions of the cause are only gradually revealed over the course of the story. Rose has reason to be afraid of Sir Ronald - heís a twisted individual. Unlike many fictional villains, however, who seem to be evil through and through because the story needs a bad guy, near the end of the story Sir Ronaldís motivation in pursuing Rose so determinedly is revealed. Roseís fears that she will be ostracized by Julian, his family, and friends are less reasonable. Unlike the villagers who had shunned her, it is plain from their first meeting that these are good, supportive people. Yes, itís well established that Rose needs to learn to trust again, but she seems unreasonably resistant to recognizing their worth when sheís had ample evidence of their good characters.

Julianís recuperation is a somewhat weak aspect of the plot - itís too easy. Lady Eversleigh is in despair because she thinks her son may be forever lost to his injuries. With relatively little effort, Rose is able to reinvigorate him again and begin the road to full recovery. It appears that Julian has been sulking and sinking into self-pity. Do heroes sulk? I think it might have been a stronger story had Julian not been able to make a full recovery and had to come to terms with permanent impairment.

But the weakest aspect of the book is the strong connection to the earlier books in the series. I had not read either book, and I often felt as though Iíd wandered in in the middle of the story. I found myself occasionally questioning who a particular character was or wondering if something in an earlier book would help make sense of the action. For example, several times it is mentioned that when they first met in Scutari, Julian threw his boot at Rose. Lack of knowledge of their earlier relationship limited my appreciation of how his initial hostility develops into love.

If youíve enjoyed the first two books, you will definitely want to read A Rose for Julian to see how things turn out. But I caution readers like myself who are unfamiliar with the series: this book doesnít stand alone.

--Lesley Dunlap

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