Veiled Promises

Tracy MacNish
2005, European Historical Romance (1740s [Georgian] England)
Zebra, $3.99, 383 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821779524

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Readers who pine for the old days of sweeping romances with larger than life characters who undergo tortures galore before the final happily ever after will love Veiled Promises, Tracy MacNish's debut. This is neo old-school romance done well.

Camille Bradburn is the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Eton. She is beautiful, accomplished, and has everything she could want. Her life seems perfect, but Camille is a tortured heroine - literally. Her father is only interested in having sex with the servants, her brother is only interested in his horse breeding business, so that leaves Camille to her mother.

The duchess controlls her daughter's every breath and punishes her for any slight infraction. Camille's back is a mass of scars from whippings she has received from her mother. The duchess is determined to break Camille's will and will not allow her even a moment of free thought.

When Irish ship captain Patrick Mullen comes to visit Camille's brother to see about buying some land, he meets Camille and an instant attraction flares up between them. However, the duchess has plans for her daughter and they don't include Patrick. She succeeds in separating them, but this is only the beginning of their story. To say much more would be spoiling it - just read for yourself.

Veiled Promises is an intense romance that breaks many of the conventions of romance novels. I'm sure some readers will hate it, but others (including me) will enjoy it since it is not the usual fare. Camille's mother, the Duchess of Eton is hands down the best villain of the year. She is beautiful and outwardly gracious and pious, but has the soul of a sadist. She manipulates the lives of everyone including Bret, the man she has chosen to marry Camille. The author gives a reason for the duchess's actions, but it is not one that excuses her. She does not soften one bit, and I can't say I felt sorry for her eventual fate. What a vicious woman she was.

Patrick and Camille spend a long time apart, and separately undergo some heart wrenching events. I will warn the Gentle Reader that this book is incredibly violent and at one point I had to close it for a minute to compose myself. Since this is a romance novel, they get their happy ending, and I have to say they deserve it - I have seldom seen a pair who suffered so much because of their love for each other.

There are a couple of interesting secondary characters, especially Jonah, a Jew who has been wrongly convicted of murder. He befriends Camille and his story is left open. I would like to see him in a future novel.

The back blurb compares this book to The Flame and the Flower, but it's much better than that book. Veiled Promises is lushly written, but not purple and Patrick is not cruel or controlling like a Woodiwiss hero. All the suffering that the characters go through is because of the actions of Camille's mother. A lot of the suffering a Woodiwiss heroine goes through is because of the actions of the hero. Patrick is alpha, but tender and devoted to Camille - he's not an overbearing jerk like Brandon from The Flame and the Flower.

Camille is supposed to be strong and willful, but I thought she was pliable and a bit weak especially at the beginning of the book. She toughened up some as the story progressed and showed spirit and fire without being silly or feisty.

After a long string of ho-hum, formulaic romances, this book was a treat to read. It was like drinking fine brandy after having had nothing but weak tea. Veiled Promises was strong stuff, and again I must warn the reader, there are several violent and uncomfortable scenes in it. MacNish has a strong and distinctive style and I plan to read her next book as soon as it hits the shelves.

LLB: I had a far different reaction to this book than Ellen did. The author wrote well, set the story's emotional tone right from the start, and created a sweet romance for the hero and heroine. Unfortunately, there were an absurd number of obstacles and hardships forced upon them by the heroine's evil-by-mythic-proportions mother that any good will I had toward the book was totally and utterly obliterated.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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