Susan King, Author . Signet $6.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-20955-9

Evocative prose and an alluring setting fail to offset the awkward plotting in King's newest Scottish romance (after The Sword Maiden). In 1850, Meg MacNeill and aristocrat Dougal Stewart meet on a storm-swept rock, where Meg's superstitious family sends her to win the heart of a magical kelpie. According to legend, the kelpie will appear disguised as a man. Instead, she finds and seduces Dougal, believing him to be the kelpie. Afterward, however, Dougal's friends fetch him in a manner that convinces Meg she was tricked. Seven years later, she has secretly borne a son and unexpectedly inherited a vast fortune and a title, but she has never forgiven the man who deceived her. She's also fighting (and losing) a legal battle against an engineer who intends to build a lighthouse on the same prominent rock. When Meg meets Dougal again and realizes he's the engineer, she disguises the fact that she is the baroness who has been trying to thwart his construction plans. The plot contrivances pile up as Meg continues to conceal both her identity and the fact that they have a son, while fending off a villain intent on blackmailing her into marriage. Though the story falls short in conflict and credibility, King's smooth prose and dynamic characterizations will please her fans. (July)

Forecast:King's medieval-era Maiden trilogy earned her a modest following, but it has been nearly two years since her last novel hit bookstores. As a result, this book's initial sales may be slow, but a classy, provocative cover and an aggressive publishing schedule—the second installment in this trilogy will be published in September, and the third in November—will help put King back on the map.

Reviewed on: 05/26/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Paperback - 447 pages - 978-1-58724-706-4
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