OPAL by Helen Ashfield


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Ashfield's recent string of bejeweled period-romances (Emerald, Pearl, Ruby, Sapphire) are hardly gems of the genre, but the titles continue to flash a gimmicky lure. This latest is distinguished by a hefty number of plot-propelling mortalities, before the erstwhile hard-luck waif and her toff reach the final clinch. First casualties in the crag-to-crag career of young Opal Shannon, of London, nine-year-old offspring of a golden-hearted family of petty thieves, are her parents and two siblings in a fire. But before the home fires, Opal had exchanged love-shot glances with one of her pocket-picking targets, 14-year-old Edward, a.k.a. Viscount Peverell. That first little spark bursts into flame six years later, by which time Opal, who's toiled in workhouse and scullery, has begun a singing career, thanks to a kind tutoring matron (who dies). Next to push off are Edward's parents (at sea), and he's living with his gruff, doting aunt, Duchess Annice, who, scenting trouble, pries Opal from Edward via a chance for a performing career at a tavern. In her new happy life, where she is joined by a former workhouse girl and later the girl's suitor (both are doomed to expire young), Opal meets again another workhouse pal, Davey Campbell, now Mr. Big in groceries. Davey is attracted to sexy, horrid Gillian, Edward's upper-caste fiancÉe, who becomes pregnant by Davey and works out a nasty bargain with Opal. At the close (after Annice's demise), there'll be two spectacular deaths, clearing the stage, and leaving Edward and Opal alone at last. A hasty romantic exercise, barely fleshed out. Ruby (1984) was plumper and better.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's