Night in Eden

By Candice Proctor, 1997, Historical Romance (English/Australia)
Ballantine/Ivy, $5.99, ISBN #0-8041-1758-6

Sensuality: Hot

I don't get a chance to eat out at elegant restaurants much, so when I go, I invariably choose a dish I've had before. I don't want to waste my time, dollars, and calories on a meal I've never tried and that I might not like. Then I'd be disappointed and wish I hadn't experimented.

I suppose I apply the same principles to new authors or stories that have an uncommon theme or locale. Like, well, Candice Proctor? Who's that? This Night in Eden - it's about a woman who killed her husband? Takes place in New South Wales? Isn't that the old name for Australia, for god's sake? Well, who wants to read a story about a non-virgin, mother-of-two, murdering, rag-clothed wet-nurse in the sweltering Outback? Waiter! I'll have my usual, please.

Bryony Wentworth has lost everything. Her husband is dead. For having been convicted of killing him, Bryony could have been burned at the stake or flogged to death. But, she was pregnant, so got off "easy." Her little girl, Madeline, was literally wrenched from her arms. She later learns her uncle has told the child Bryony is dead. Bryony has spent long months in a dank, vermin-infested jail cell and then on a prison-scow bound for the New South Wales penal colony. Today, she has just buried her baby, Philip, in a sad and lonely grave. It's been a year of sheer hell, and now, her cold-eyed, mordacious new master has come to claim her. As a convict, Bryony will be forced into servitude for the length of her seven-year sentence to a man who can use her any way he wants. Legally, he can rape her, whore her out, work her to death, or kill her outright. Nobody will stop him; nobody will care.

Disheartened, but not defeated, Bryony Wentworth is all woman. She has survived everything they could throw at her, yet still kept her pride in tact. And now, she's ready to go toe-to-toe with one magnificent man. Yes . . . sir!

Captain Hayden St. John needs a woman, desperately. If he cannot find someone to breast-feed his infant son, Simon, the baby will die. When he applies at Parramatta prison with this as his only criterion, Hayden is presented with a tall, skinny, vermin-ridden, mud-caked, hate-filled, haughty savage. At least, that what he thinks he's getting. What does he really get? His heart's desire - and it doesn't take him forever to figure it out, either. Handsome and smart.

Through the experiences of Bryony Wentworth and the lives of her sister convicts, we are educated as to the horrific conditions women, condemned for crimes ranging from petty thievery to murder in Regency-era England, were forced to endure. It is not nice. I did cry. But Candice Proctor has done a stunning job in keeping the focus on the love story between Bryony and Hayden rather than dwelling on the undercurrent of tragedy women in these circumstances had to suffer. I had hesitated to read this book, thinking it would really bring me down; I was wrong.

I found Ms. Proctor's writing style enormously satisfying - descriptive, entertaining, even refreshing. From the unjust justice system, to the incredibly beautiful landscape of Australia, all the way to the intense love scenes, Ms. Proctor held my interest page after page. Hayden is a wonderful hero; Bryony, an extraordinary heroine. They are meant for each other and their relationship is a very satisfying one to read. The secondary characters are equally well-drawn and are not the expected stereotypes, but are used to effectively move the story forward. The only criticism I have is that the ending offered a predictable and convenient solution to the villain situation. But, in a book this good, it's a nit-pick, and the only reason I mention it at all is because you'll notice it, too. But by then, you'll be so head-over-heals for Hayden St. John, Bryony Wentworth, Simon, Madeline, and Australia, it won't matter.

So, I'll ask again: Who wants to read a story about a non-virgin, mother-of-two, murdering, rag-clothed wet-nurse in the sweltering Outback?

You do.

-- Marianne Stillings

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Read an AAR Review of Candice's The Bequest
Read an AAR Review of Candice's Beyond Sunrise
Read an AAR Review of Candice's The Last Knight
Read an AAR Review of Candice's Midnight Confessions
Read an AAR Review of Candice's September Moon
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