Red, Red Rose, by Marjorie Farrell

>> Monday, May 12, 2003

Earlier today I finished a book by Marjorie Farrell, Red, Red Rose.

He came out of nowhere to save Elspeth Gordon from a band of Portuguese brigands. Although Lieutenant Valentine Aston thought only to save the lady from an unspeakable fate, the handsome soldier is surprised to find himself not only still alive but a hero to boot. Certainly Elspeth, daughter of one of Wellington’s officers, is intrigued by her brooding rescuer.

Ever conscious of his illegitimate birth, this bastard son of an English earl is convinced that there can never be a relationship between them. Indeed, he is determined not to fall in love with her. But the fortunes of war and a gallant heroine will prove him wrong—if he has the courage to seize love when he finds it.

In spite of a nice start and ending, this one was only a C+ for me. Two reasons: the problem of the sagging middle and the dialogue.

As to the sagging middle, I'm sure some people would enjoy it much more than I did. This part concentrates mostly on the spy subplot and on describing what was happening at that time in the Peninsular war, with Wellington trying to drive the French out of Portugal. We spend the whole middle of the book in the army camp, with our protagonist observing the French camp and trying to ferret out a spy who's passing on information to them. I found the setting and the details Farrell inserts fascinating, but I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it. That's a problem I have, I hate books set during a war. I'd much prefer learning about it by reading a history book than by reading a story set there. As I said, I'm sure there are many people who'd like this much better than me.

The dialogue was the main problem I had with the book. It often felt stilted and artificial, and Farrell had her characters addressing each other by their first name almost in every sentence. Paraphrasing:

-VAL: Hello, Charlie. How are you?
-CHARLIE: Very well, Val. And you?
-VAL: I'm fine, Charlie. Thank you.

Seriously, this was terribly irritating. Plus, these were English school friends, and I can't help but think about a post by a British reader on one of the AAR message boards, discussing how it would be more likely in circumstances like this that the characters would call each other either by a nickname or by their last names.

I liked both Val and Elspeth very much, but unfortunately, their romance was a bit blah. There's not much of it in the sagging middle, that's the main problem. And what there is isn't very exciting.

Another thing I should mention is that almost from the beginning, I just knew one of the important characters was going to die tragically. It's that kind of book, if you know what I mean.

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