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The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson
Be forewarned, plot spoilers may follow (not that I think it would make much difference as it was obvious from the beginning).

The blurb at the back states:

"Sherida Binyon Fears THE SIGN OF THE RAM

Until Sherida comes to Bastions, an isolated old country house in superstition-ridden Cornwall, she does not take Astrology seriously. But when she learns that her cruel, domineering employer, Mrs. St. Aubyn, was born in April under The Sign of the Ram, she knows for certain that her life is in danger.
For crippled, power-mad Mrs. St. Aubyn is convinced that Sherida intends to take her husband away from her. Because she is a Ram, Mrs. St. Aubyn has the determination and furious vitality that could be fatal to anyone she hates strongly. Slowly, secretly she begins to drive Sherida to madness and death. Fiercely, Sherida struggles to escape the dangerous destiny the stars have set for her!
This harrowing conflict between good and evil makes THE SIGN OF THE RAM a Gothic novel of nerve-shattering terror."

Over the years, I have learned to suspect such grandiose praise. Also, when I get the impression that our heroine is about to run off with another woman's husband, it sort of ruins it for me. Call me a prude, but adultery just doesn't do it for me. I think it was one of the things I disliked about Jane Eyre, though I thought the book was well-written.

Anyhow, getting back to the book. About the only thing nerve-shattering about it was how irritating it was. I had to put it down several times, and the only reason I finished it was because I just don't like incomplete tasks.

Whoever wrote the blurb didn't read the book, or if they did, they read a different book from the one I read. Perhaps, the author herself wrote it, thinking that was what it was intended to be; then, her writing took over and it went mad.

Mrs. St. Aubyn did not drive Sherida to madness, but Ms. Ferguson sure drove me to madness. There were moments in the story when I felt that the characters ought to have suddenly turned to the author and cried, "What?!"

First of all, Cornwall may be superstition-ridden, but I never felt that Sherida was ever "warned" that people in that area were superstitious. I believe she came to think of them as "fey". Mrs. St. Aubyn may be cruel and domineering, but the moment Sherida enters the house, the entire family are there to assure her that their stepmother was anything but. In fact, though the reader may see Mrs. St. Aubyn's manipulative side, she never presents herself as cruel. In fact, if she was, I believe that Sherida would have had ample reason to leave.

Secondly, Sherida may have been the intended heroine, but the story hardly centered around her. In fact, Mrs. St. Aubyn was the central figure as she had her finger in everybody's pie. Sherida was a rather minor character. If you want to look at it from a "romance" point of view, there were 3 heroines: Sherida, Jane St. Aubyn, and Catherine Maitland; and their respective heroes: Major St. Aubyn, Simon Crowdy and Logan St. Aubyn. None of the romances were ever dealt with very effectively - Logan's and Catherine's apparently happened in the past and just told about in the story; the Major and Sherida fell in love somewhere along the way after they worked together (it was developed backstage); Jane's and Simon's story developed in the forefront but it seemed one-sided. What I can't understand is how the Major could have been a devoted husband to such a "wonderful" woman (as Leah St. Aubyn was portrayed at the beginning of the story) then fall in love with another woman and suddenly realize what a wicked woman he had married.

It was annoying how the author wanted us to believe that Sherida's coming was the force that shattered the rose-colored glasses the family wore when it came to anything about Leah. She was completely ineffectual, as all the characters were. The events that followed would have happened regardless of Sherida's presence, as the Major reflected near the end. Though he credited her with pushing events forward, I did not believe it.

Mrs. St. Aubyn did not drive Sherida to madness; she drove Catherine to madness. Sherida never struggled against anything until the end when her own stupidity put her life in danger. Imagine that you distrust sleeping tablets and then when you are ill, you decide to take a sleeping tablet from the two people you trust the least, one of whom you had branded as "evil".

Another very irritating thing about this book was the author's writing. It started out OK, but I quickly realized that the author was trying to sound erudite. She used big words when simple ones would have sufficed, or been more appropriate. Then she used them over and over again. She would prose on and on about the landscape sometimes and her descriptive words made the scene less visible in my mind's eyes. Here again, she would use the same descriptive terms (maybe she didn't look back at her scenes). The story-telling seemed to be just story telling rather than story developing. There seemed little dialogue and events that take place over several days would be summarized in a few sentences. There were no cliff-hangers, no tension as any of the characters faced something unpleasant. So much of the unpleasantness was "summarized" rather than described as it occurred. As a reader, I could not get into the characters and empathize with any of them. The author didn't allow for it. And she made all of them so inconsistent throughout. I understand that some of them did undergo transformations, but those transformations were unexplained and the inconsistencies occurred even before the transformation.

Lastly, my final criticism has to take in the title. Not once in the story is there a reference to astrology or to Mrs. St. Aubyn's birthdate. Did Ms. Ferguson forget something?

I know I forewarned about spoilers even though I hardly mentioned anything about the story. I hope no one feels disappointed because I mentioned the three romances - it was pretty much stated early on in the story. But, the ending is incomplete in that WWII is about to happen and you really don't know how the characters are going to fare.[/quote]

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