Tainted Angel

Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland. Photo by M.C.
Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland. Photo by M.C.

Anne Cleeland’s first novel, Tainted Angel, has all the elements romance novels should have: a first chapter that captures the reader, each chapter ends a bit ominous, and an independent heroine.

From the beginning, it feels like the reader has jumped in the middle of the characters’ lives, not the other way around, where life doesn’t happen until the writer says so. There is a sense that Vidia Swanson, an “angel” working for the Crown, has had an adventurous life since the reader is privy to her past and sometimes with the other characters. It seems the author has set up the characters so that she can return to them. (Yes, this is going to be a series, but not with Vidia. There will be another cast of spies.)

Carstairs is the soon-to-be love interest of Vidia. Don’t you love the name—Carstairs? Cleeland puts the hero and heroine in funny predicaments from getting them to bed then in bed in the first chapter. Being a spy Vidia must use her womanly powers to coax the men of their secrets. Her tryst with Carstairs is passionate. They meet later and he says, “I don’t want to stop speaking of it, Vidia—I can’t. In fact, I would like to continue to meet with you when it can be arranged.” He is smitten by her, but he is a spy too working for the Crown. Vidia is keeping company with many men, one being Brodie, who is more of a father figure. Vidia admits to Carstairs there is nothing going on—she is merely keeping an eye on Brodie. She is truly the primmest “angel” who hides under a veil of “companionship.” She mentions her encounter with Carstairs to Brodie, who tells her it’s a trap.

Everybody is suspicious of each other that they are transporting England’s gold to the French—Napoleon’s side. As a reader you will be suspicious of everyone, but don’t let the engaging characters distract you from where the gold is. Maisie, Vidia’s maid, will distract the reader from the gold with her well written accent in the dialogue and her dry humor or humour, rather, since this is in England.

The author keeps the character’s a bit illusive pushing the plot along with twists and turns. One chapter ends with Carstairs’ not making love to Vidia as she expected. Giving the details as to what leads up to their continued relationship would spoil the book, but they are trying to uncover the lost gold in between their chaotic love affair.

Vidia is daring and uses every device to escape Carstairs’ hold. She hides under a cloak and tries to escape with a horse only to be caught. She checks out the drapery in the hotel room to use for escaping out the window. She can use a gun and talk her way out of any situation. Once, Carstairs rescues her from a cold sea after she has “jumped ship.”

Southern Californian author Anne Cleeland creates a picture of early nineteenth century London from the underground world to a card room where the rich and wealthy pass time. The streets are filled with cobblestones, drunkards exposed by the street lamps and transportation from a horse drawn carriage. The beautiful spy is always fully dressed with a silk pelisse or fichu in her décolletage. It’s apparent the author has done her research on The Napoleonic Wars and Regency England, adding depth to the story. This Historical Romance, Tainted Angel, is an adventurous first book.

For more on Anne Cleeland visit her website at www.annecleeland.com or buy her book at www.amazon.com. Look at the lovely cover for Tainted Angel and Cleeland’s other books.

A Heroizing Merchant


Lucas Hall as Bassanio and Krystel Lucas as Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" at The Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival in San Diego. Photo by Michael Lamont.
Lucas Hall as Bassanio and Krystel Lucas as Portia in “The Merchant of Venice” at The Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival in San Diego. Photo by Michael Lamont.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is one of those plays that I leave with a different point of view from the last show. Director Adrian Noble’s production is an equilibrium of characters.

Even though Shylock comes to mind when thinking about The Merchant of Venice, his character isn’t the largest or the main role. The character with the most lines is Portia and the title role goes to Antonio. With all the whining Shylock does, it appears he is the main character. His voice is loud and the play centers on Shylock. Isn’t Shylock being the center of attention just like life? The one with the loudest voice is heard and focused on—not necessarily the consensus.

Being that the people in society who are the most obnoxious tend to get too much media attention it is a relief to see Miles Anderson who plays Shylock walk away defeated. I never thought of it this way, but I like that Shylock doesn’t win in the end. Another production I saw of The Merchant, Shylock is completely wronged or rather I felt complete sympathy for him. Either way it shows how two different cultures live in disharmony.

This play is spoken of as problematic because it is debated whether it is a comedy, tragedy or tragicomedy; is it anti-Semitic or a reflection of society; it doesn’t have a solution or a happily ever after. Miles Anderson as Shylock looks through a window at his daughter, happy with her Christian friends and husband, and walks off in rags having lost everything. The expression on his face shows for the first time, genuine love for his daughter Jessica (Winslow Corbett).

Perhaps, Anderson’s relenting Shylock allows for Portia to be the heroine. Krystel Lucas as Portia is left a handsome inheritance, but not without a test for the suitors. Lucas shows her apprehension in her body language and face as the suitors read the riddles. The last suitor, Bassanio played by Lucas Hall, is wise enough to choose the right box. Krystel Lucas’ face lights up with a winning smile. So, really Portia chose well. An entertaining scene to find out Portia and Bassanio are meant to be together. It makes one wonder if this play could be played completely as a comedy.

Bassanio’s friend Antonio, played by Donald Carrier, is in trouble with Shylock, owing him money. Carrier’s Antonio tips lavishly and spends loaned money on a gamble. Even his top hat and coat by costume designer Deirdre Clancy is over-the-top. Carrier’s character is satisfying in the wake of societies tumble.

The closest to a solution, Portia dresses up as a lawyer and argues in court that in the contract—how a “pound of flesh” is removed is not determined. She tells Shylock he must take the “pound of flesh” without a drop of blood. Portia outwits him by using the law.

It’s like Shakespeare said, “Two can play at this game.” Shylock is so adamant about the Law that he won’t forgive. In the end, he is defeated by the law and his own game leaving him unrighteous.

The Old Globe’s The Merchant of Venice runs through September 28, 2013.