Book Review

Angel Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

B-

Title: Angel Rogue
Author: Mary Jo Putney
Publication Info: Topaz / Penguin 1990
ISBN: 0-451-40598-6
Genre: Historical: European

I started this novel immediately after finishing Dearly Beloved and Candy assured me it was much much better. It was, but I’ve still come away after finishing the novel with a let down, unsatisfied feeling. If you’re only reading the top paragraph of our reviews – and really, why would you do that? – I would have to sum up my feelings by saying, it was a good story, and I liked the characters well enough, but it didn’t sweep me away and cause me to almost miss my stop on the train like a good romance can. I didn’t have the urge to finish it at home because I couldn’t put it down. I finished it at home because if I finished it on the train I’d be leaving myself with nothing more to read for the rest of the trip, and then I’d be annoyed at myself.

Angel Rogue is the story of Robin, more properly known as Lord Robert Andreville, a spy during the Napoleonic wars who has recently come home much worse for the wear after many, many years of derring-do. According to Candy, who has read more of the Fallen Angels series than I have, Robin appears frequently in the prior novels in the series, and he was one of her favorite characters.

I concur with her feelings about Robin. He’s confident, self-assured, but also aware of his own feelings of guilt and horror at the actions he took as a covert operative during the war. Unlike some tortured heroes, he doesn’t behave like a complete bastard and then realize his horrible attitude stems from his horrible guilt. Moments of revelation such as these never garner much of my sympathies; my reaction is somewhere along the lines of, Gee, that’s sad, but you were still acting like a complete schmuck.â€

Robin hides his feelings of remorse behind an ever-changing but completely affable, charming façade, which he adjusts depending on the company he keeps. He’s not ever truly mean or cruel, but holds everyone, including his brother, Giles, and the heroine, Maxima, at a distance, feeling himself unworthy of love due to his past.

The heroine, Maxima, is an American born to an English father, himself the younger son of a Viscount, and a Mohawk woman. Maxima was raised in an unconventional home, to say the least, and after her mother’s death, she and her father were roaming bookpeddlers through much of the mid-Atlantic states. They traveled to England so Maxima could meet the rest of her family, and so her father could attempt to raise funds through sources that were kept from Maxima, though she was aware that these sources and schemes never really worked out.

While in England, Maxima’s father suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving her with her uncle’s family. Her uncle isn’t a horrible man, but her aunt and cousins are all jealous in a rather one-dimensional secondary-character-that-doesn’t-matter-much fashion. As Maxima says, when their jealousy is brought to her attention, they “don’t have a waistline between the three of themâ€

The story begins when Maxima overhears her uncle and aunt speaking of the suspicious circumstances behind her father’s death, and draws the conclusion that her uncle had him killed. She runs away that night, intent on walking to London to find out for herself what happened.

The next day, while cutting across some neighboring lands, she trips literally over Robin, who is sitting under a tree immersed in his own melancholy. Upon discovering her plan to walk to London – and even I had to raise a brow at that, given that she is a female, unaccompanied, and marginally disguised as a boy – Robin declares himself her escort, and they set off towards London together, much to Maxima’s displeasure.

The bulk of the story concerns their journey from Yorkshire to London – on foot – and the resolution of the questionable nature of Maxima’s father’s demise. Along the way, Maxima’s father’s sister Desdemona, another aunt whom she hasn’t yet met, decides to chase after her, certain that Maxima has fallen into the hands of a conscienceless bounder. Desdemona ascertains that Maxima is traveling in the company of Robin, and pays an unannounced visit to Robin’s brother, Giles, the current Marquess, and accuses Robin of “moral terpitude.†Giles is understandably upset, and completely attracted to Desdemona, and the two of them set off to find Maxima and Robin, thereby providing a marvelous parallel love story.

As is so often the case, I was much more intrigued by the secondary love story than the attraction between Robin and Maxima. Part of the problem was the predictable Naïve American Wisdom stereotyping of Maxima, who was eager and able to guide Robin to “listen to the wind†and reach out with her soul to find the dark patches of his conscience, and knew of ritual words to eradicate his emotional burdens. The other part of the problem was that the journey to London seemed to take a very, very long time, and once they reached London, the scene of all of the resolutions to every open storyline in the book, the entire collection of unresolved questions was all sewn up in two days’ time, and in 50 pages at most.

Robin’s journey, aside from the one on foot, was to heal himself from the dark guilt plaguing him from the war. Maxima’s journey was to heal Robin, find closure for herself in dealing with her father’s death, and to find her place as a person who belonged to neither the Native American world, the American world, or the English world. As with Dearly Beloved the tortured hero was much more interesting than the relentlessly perfect heroine, who again was a source of wisdom, healing, warmth, and understanding. As hard as it is to craft a heroine who is flawed but lovable, I much prefer romance novels when both sides of the romance grow markedly from the beginning to the end. Maxima arrived in England with the skills and moral balance she retained through the story itself, and didn’t grow so much as fall head over moccasins in love with Robin, and use her wisdom to heal him, evade their pursuers, and learn the truth of what happened to her father.

Thus, this book rates a B- for me. Giving it a C seemed harsh, because it wasn’t bad. As a romance, it was straight average for me. It wasn’t bad, but it sure didn’t sing.

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