Kate Noble
March 2008, European Historical Romance (1820s [Victorian] England)
Berkley, $14.00, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 042521964X

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

Compromised is a light, Victorian-set love story. It marks the debut of author Kate Noble, and for a first book, it's not half bad.

Maximillian, Viscount Fontaine, survives on his intellect. Estranged from his reclusive father and beholden to no one, Max uses his skill with languages to earn just enough to live comfortably. When his father demands that he marry within three months or be disinherited, Max realizes that he truly does not want to give up the privileges and power that go with his name and title. Unfortunately, none of the young ladies of society inspire him enough to contemplate spending his entire life with them.

Gail Alton is the youngest daughter of Sir Geoffrey Alton, a diplomat only now returning to England with his two daughters and new wife. Raised abroad, Gail thrives on knowledge. Upon returning to England, her stepmother is determined to launch both Gail and her older sister, the beautiful and well-mannered Evangeline, whom she views as her ticket into the most elite circles of London society. Her goal for Gail, on the other hand, is to keep her from embarrassing the family, for Gail is Evangeline's complete opposite.

While taking an early morning ride in the park, serendipity strikes and Gail and Max meet under circumstances that couldn't be much worse. When they meet again, the circumstances are embarrassing for Gail and annoying for Max. On that night of their second encounter, Max meets Evangeline, and the two believe they've discovered something magical. As romantic as the meeting is, there is also the possibility of compromise. Max, realizing how unique the encounter truly is, offers to make things right for Evangeline. He then discovers, much to his unpleasant surprise, that he will be the future brother-in-law to the girl he refers to as Brat.

Slowly Max realizes how different he and Evangeline are and, to make matters worse, he can't seem to get Gail out of his mind. Despite initial feelings of animosity, Gail becomes dependent on Max's friendship and doesn't realize until too late that her feelings run deeper. Bound by promises and loyalties, both are in impossible positions that seem to have no pleasant solution.

There isn't anything special that stands out about this story - nor is there anything wrong with it. Max is unremarkable except in his yearning for knowledge and what stands in the way of his goals. He seems to simply to drift through life and relationships. Throughout much of the story, I felt sorry for Gail. She always plays second fiddle to Evangeline, who is prettier, more graceful, and who becomes the doll of society. Even with Max, Gail comes second for most of the book; I wanted to see her shine more than the author allows. But I enjoyed the secondary characters, especially the stepmother, and appreciated the lack of real villains or big misunderstandings.

The author's debut effort offers a solid story, and characters who aren't typical. As much as I liked their novelty, they were under-written. And nothing else really stands out about the book; it's just a typical Victorian-era romance.

-- Heather Brooks

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