The Arrangement

The Deception

The Gamble

Golden Girl

The Guardian

No Dark Place

The Poisoned Serpent

The Pretenders

Someday Soon by Joan Wolf
(Warner, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60694-4
Confessions of a Romance Reviewer: I admire Joan Wolf's novels tremendously, particularly her Regencies. I think The Pretenders is the best novel I've read in that sub-genre. Perhaps unfortunately for Wolf, my enthusiasm is a two-edged sword. Because I know how well she can write, I hold her to a high standard. Judged against the body of her own work, I find that Someday Soon does not quite achieve the excellence I've come to expect. Despite that caveat, however, Someday Soon is still an entertaining story, well told.

Twenty-one-year-old Alexandra Wilton is the only child of the dissolute Earl of Hartford, and unmarried, much to the Earl's annoyance. When he dies suddenly, her cousin, Geoffrey Wilton, inherits the title and the entailed properties, as Alexandra had known he would. Alexandra inherits the remainder of the Earl's estate -- his stud farm and the fortune he made from his investments -- but only if she marries the seventh earl within eight months. If she does not, her share of the inheritance will go to the Jockey Club.

Geoff has been in love with Alexandra since he was 12 and needs the income from the investments to maintain the estate properly, so he is delighted by the terms of the will. Alexandra is not. She feels a sisterly love for Geoff but no physical attraction at all. As she says to him at one point, "(T)hey used to give us a bath in the same tub when we were little." The idea of marrying Geoff is repugnant to her.

Before the marriage can take place, Alexandra’s solicitor receives word of a second claimant to the title. Many years earlier the sixth Earl’s younger brother, on a visit to Ft. Augustus in the western Highlands, met and married Maire MacDonald. They had a son who is the true seventh earl and -- according to the language of the late Earl’s will -- the man Alexandra must marry.

Niall MacDonald's father, Edward Wilton, is long dead, as is his Scottish mother. He has been raised by his maternal grandfather and considers himself not only Scots but a Highlander, with all the bitterness toward the English that Highlanders felt 68 years after the disaster that was Culloden. Even so, when he is told that he has inherited not only the title from the Earl of Hartford but also his paternal grandfather's wealth, he decides quickly to travel south, raid the estate for the funds to improve his cattle, and return home. He is unaware that, in order to access his grandfather's wealth, he must marry Alexandra.

The stage is set for a marriage of convenience, a staple of the romance genre that rarely fails to engage me. In this case, the initial antagonism between Alexandra and Niall was so strong -- and based on such plausible motivations -- that I had difficulty believing that the two would also be physically attracted to each other. Furthermore, the threat that encouraged Alec and Niall to make their marriage more than a marriage in name only struck me as so far-fetched as to be unlikely to be considered seriously, either by the person making the threat or the people being threatened.

Once Alexandra and Niall consummate their marriage -- and both go up in flames when they do -- the narrative improves considerably. The dynamics of their marriage -- Niall's guilt over his English marriage, Alec's efforts to hide her growing love for her difficult husband -- are convincing. As usual, Wolf provides the sort of dialogue that most couples will readily recognize, littered with apparent non sequiturs that are not, after all, unresponsive.

Wolf's descriptions of the western Highlands in 1814 made me jealous because I'm not there right now, and because if I were, I wouldn't expect to find the lonely landscape she describes so well. Her description of the wild and remote countryside made Niall's devotion to his land convincing.

On balance, I found Someday Soon an agreeable reading experience. I am sure I will reread it regularly, if for no other reason than the enjoyment I derive from Wolf's skillful writing. Others for whom plot is more important than dialogue, setting, or style should still find the fine character development in Someday Soon reward enough to justify reading Wolf's latest.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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