Ribbons of Moonlight is a debut novel by Rebecca Frencl. When we met recently over tea, she described the book as a paranormal romance based on an Alfred Noyes poem, The Highwayman. In the story, a modern young woman time travels back in history and meets her soul mate.
This is an entertaining, swashbuckling tale of requited love across the centuries. It has plenty of sex, flirtatious banter, feisty heroines, stalwart heroes and a sexually perverse villain who’s irredeemably evil. For additional spice, a pathetic, abused and sexually repressed loser, who longs for the innkeeper’s daughter and plots to do away with her presumed lover, is stirred in. There’s something for everyone, even a subplot involving a budding love affair between the minor characters.
For the most part the characters seem to be having a good time. Despite the fact that they are relegated to doing most of the grunt work, there’s no complaining or grousing among the adolescent boys, called “boyos” by the others. The scenes with the boyos read like summer camp at its best. The women characters breeze through the drudgery of doing laundry, dishes and serving meals, their thoughts on trysts by moonlight.
Frencl does a very credible job creating her characters and building tension throughout the story. There are enough twists and turns to keep a reader interested and guessing the outcome.
The pace is good. Not so fast that the reader feels on a galloping horse, nor so slow as to make you feel you’re on a plow horse either. There are adequate descriptions of the setting and characters, but the author does not fall into the common pitfall of historical novelists of over describing everything until the story grinds to a halt.
What’s not to like? Well, actually, I do have a few quibbles.
The whole time-travel sub-plot puzzles me. The reason for the time-warp is never explained. Did it happen because the protagonist, Emma, is in the coach and falls asleep or does the driver take a wrong turn? And what happens to the driver of the coach, anyhow? He literally disappears from the story. Does he return to the future or just somehow bumble his way through the 18th Century for what remains of his fractured life? I’m as ready as the next person to suspend belief in the pursuit of a good story, but this particular tale does not need this over-used complication.
It’s also not clear why Emma is a dead-ringer for Bess, her 18th century counterpart. They are not related or at least, there’s no mention of a genetic connection. I wondered if that physical resemblance is due to the time travel or some obscure symbolism that I don’t understand.
I am not a regular reader of romance novels, although a good one can be an enjoyable romp. The romantic leads Ribbons of Moonlight are quite charming, but I wasn’t sure why there are two featured couples. It drains some of the sexual anticipation to have both sets of lovers peaking (so to speak) at about the same time. But maybe that’s common in the genre these days.
If you’re not familiar with the poem or the song (Johnny Cash sings a version), I suggest you wait to read it until after you’ve read the book. Unless you like to know what is going to happen in a book before you start it. The novel closely follows the plot in the poem.
Frencl, whose married name is Ciardullo, is a whirlwind of energy and ideas. She is currently writing three different manuscripts, has a three year old child, is married, teaches full time and then, in whatever free time she has, is also the president of the teacher’s union for Forest Park. I felt like a slug sitting as the table with her.
Frencl loves books and can talk knowledgeably about young adult literature (Check out her guest post on this blog). She exudes passion about getting students to read. “I tell them that it isn’t that they don’t like to read, it’s just they haven’t met the right book.” She not only reads and recommends books to her students; she buys copies and lends them out. Her students get so excited about books that they make recommendations back to her. A former coworker told me that she is a gifted teacher. She’s obviously creative on many levels, from engaging students in reading to writing books herself. With her verve and drive, I’m sure we’ll be seeing many more books she has authored in the near future.
Ribbons of Moonlight is available through Amazon in an e-Version and should be available in print in the late spring.