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REVIEW: Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Dear Ms. Camden,

I’m always on the hunt for new and different in romance, and when it comes in the form of an inspirational historical suspense story centering on the opium trade in late 19th-century Boston – with a gorgeous cover as a bonus – I am helpless to resist.
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

As a child, Lydia Pallas became all too familiar with uncertainty when it came to the future. Now, she’s finally carved out a perfect life for herself – a life of stability and order with no changes, surprises, or chaos of any kind. She adores her apartment overlooking the bustling Boston Harbor, and her skill with languages has landed her a secure position as a translator for the U.S. Navy.

However, it is her talent for translation that brings her into contact with Alexander Banebridge, or “Bane,” a man who equally attracts and aggravates her. When Bane hires Lydia to translate a seemingly innocuous collection of European documents, she hesitantly agrees, only to discover she is in over her head.

I’ve read Against the Tide three times now, and I’ve been sitting on this review for months because I’m both enthralled and a bit conflicted. Your characters are complex and memorable, and the setting and suspense had me in a full-on book trance even on the second and third reads. Only one element in the narrative bothered me enough to add a minus instead of a plus to the letter grade, but it’s one that’s central to the story.

Our hero, Alexander Banebridge, is an enigmatic loner. As we learn his backstory, his motivations become clear, especially his obsession with redemption and revenge. We see Bane struggle with the sins of his past, and his need to protect the very few people he cares about make him the epitome of a tragic hero.

A character like Bane needs strong counterpart, and Lydia Pallas is no doormat heroine. I adore Lydia. She’s smart (a linguist and translator for the Navy!) and confident, and despite her vulnerable situation, she’s not afraid to take risks to get future she knows she and Bane deserve.

As a romance, Against the Tide has everything that makes me happy – especially the relationship-building. Lydia’s more than a bit fussy, and before they even say a word to each other, Bane knows how to push her buttons.

Lydia glared at the closed door of the office where Lieutenant Banebridge had entered. Every time that man was in the office, something turned up askew at her desk. A picture was upside down or her dictionaries were no longer in alphabetical order. She had been staring straight at the man as he crossed through their office, but he still managed to tamper with her belongings and escape her notice. Lydia’s mouth narrowed to a thin line as she rearranged the ink bottles, knowing it would be impossible to concentrate until they were back in proper order.

“I really don’t like that man,” she muttered under her breath.

Bane keeps poking during their first actual conversation, but Lydia proves she can hold her own with a master smooth-talker.

“Twenty dollars would pay your salary for an entire week!”

“It will also pay for an overnight translation.” She needed that money and was determined to fight for it. With a casual glance she scanned the other customers in the coffeehouse. “Perhaps someone else could do it? Let’s see. Paddy O’Malley, playing chess in the corner, is always looking for work. Perhaps you could ask him. Or better yet, there is a school of architecture just down the street. Perhaps they’ve got some Turkish translators with a bit of time on their hands.”

….“Come now,” he said in a coaxing manner. “I’ve seen ten-year-olds forego a night of sleep in order to see Santa Claus. Surely you are up to the task.”

“Did any of those ten-year-olds read Turkish?”

While many romantic suspense stories rely solely on external conflicts to bring lovers together, we learn enough about Lydia and Bane as individuals to feel the internal upheavals they inflict on each other. And yes, this is a no-sex inspie, but it’s definitely not one I’d label as “sweet” or (*shudder*) “clean.”

His back was to the wall of bookshelves and she had him pinned. “I need you to quit kissing my neck and concentrate here.” How was he supposed to be noble when she was so relentless?

This book also works for me as an inspirational. The faith messages are low-key and cohesive, and they’re integral to both the story and to Lydia and Bane’s relationship. Where Bane’s dramatic conversion as a teenager is the motivation for everything he does, Lydia’s spirituality is based on the “superstitions” of her Greek fisherman father.

“Lydia, do you still go out and pray to a full moon?”

“Are you going to make fun of me if I do?”

His smile grew wider. “Count on it.”

“Then have at it.” She went back to flipping through the papers in her file, unable to meet his eyes but grinning broadly. “Yes, I go out on each full moon. Always. I still face the north and simply pray a little bit. Not to Artemis or Jesus or anyone specific. . . . It just feels good to believe someone out there is listening.”

There’s more direct discussion of faith later in the story, yet it never devolves into sermonizing or (*shudder*) “you’re not worthy of my love until you’re as Godly as me” shaming. And it’s even (*gasp*) humorous:

“If you think God has neglected you, then what am I?”

“A nuisance sent to disrupt my ink bottles?”

As a suspense story, opium smuggling might seem over-the-top for an inspirational romance, but compelling characters in a convincing setting make it work. We get secret codes, kidnappings, disguises and dramatic rescues, driven by a disturbing sociopathic villain.

However…. [SPOILERS!] This is where my one misgiving comes in. While I understand the need to make opium a personal issue for both main characters, the portrayal of Lydia’s addiction seems didn’t sit quite right. The backstory of her introduction to the drug – as a sedative in the orphanage – was entirely believable and affecting. But every time Lydia’s little blue bottle popped up in the story, it felt forced and out of place. It wasn’t until full suspense mode kicked in that I saw it as necessary to the plot. And when that drama ends, we’re given what amounts to an extended epilogue that’s so overtly educational and overly earnest it comes perilously close to the similar change of tone that disrupted the first book in the series.

Luckily, a few more swoon-worthy moments redeem this story of redemption, and it ends with a beautifully understated faith message….

“Can you believe it, Papa?” she whispered…. She still talked to the full moon, only now she was certain someone was listening.

So despite a few reservations, Against the Tide is exactly what I look for in both historical and inspirational romance – and it’s already on my keeper shelf. A-

~ Kelly

Kelly

I lost my romance-reading virginity with my older sister’s Danielle Steel collection, and Judith Krantz broadened my teenage horizons in ways I’m still recovering from. My bookshelves are overflowing with history and historical fiction, my Kindle is home to everything from preachy inspirationals to extreme kink, and my wishlist is out of control. Thanks to my old-school, cigar-smoking journalism professors, I have a passion for good storytelling and zero tolerance for lazy writing. I’ll forgive nearly anything for a sappy, happy ending – but I'm not afraid to unleash the snark. [And FYI, I work part-time for a GLBTQ publisher, so I do not review any GLBTQ titles to avoid any conflict of interest.]

15 Comments

  1. Ros
    May 20, 2013 @ 12:24:47

    Wow, this sounds exactly my sort of book. Great review – looking forward to seeing more from you here.

  2. Crista
    May 20, 2013 @ 13:00:12

    Damn – this book sounds soooo awesome, but the $10.19 price tag for the ebook is above my budget. I guess I’ll add to my wish list and wait for it to go down

  3. Kelly
    May 20, 2013 @ 13:12:09

    @Crista: The paperback is only $6 on Amazon – I’d offer to loan you the paper ARC I read, but it’s more marked up than any of my college textbooks.

  4. Crista
    May 20, 2013 @ 13:23:53

    @Kelly:
    That’s very sad that the paperback is cheaper than the ebook. But thank you for the info, Kelly – I might actually have to buy it now :-)

  5. Nancy
    May 20, 2013 @ 15:44:46

    Hmmm . . . I wanted to read this book because the plot sounded interesting and I want to try more inspie romances. But then I noticed the author’s backlist. I read The Lady of Bolton Hill and found it not only preachy but silly and overly dramatic. Based on your review, it sounds like Camden has scaled back in this novel. I might have to give the author another try.

  6. Kelly
    May 20, 2013 @ 16:25:31

    @Nancy:

    I read Lady of Bolton Hill as well, and had the exact same reaction. It turned into a completely different book halfway through. This one is much more cohesive with better developed characters.

  7. kris Bock
    May 20, 2013 @ 18:56:48

    I like The Nell Sweey Mystery series, About A 19th-Century Boston Governess. The First Book Involves The Opium Trade And A Doctor Accused Of Murder. Not A Romance, But There Is A Romance That Carries Through The Series. (And I Don’t Know Why My Phone Is Capitalizing Every Word.)

  8. Ridley
    May 20, 2013 @ 21:19:36

    Why must all the interesting historicals be inspies? It’s such a tease.

  9. Ros
    May 21, 2013 @ 04:54:29

    @Ridley: It’s because God loves you, Ridley. ;)

  10. pooks
    May 21, 2013 @ 15:30:56

    So annoying when the print costs less than the ebook.

  11. Elle
    May 26, 2013 @ 04:56:36

    Is there any reason why this book is not a DA recommended read, despite the A- review?

  12. MaryK
    May 28, 2013 @ 15:05:34

    @Elle: I don’t think she’s a regular DA reviewer. I’ve noticed that guest reviewers don’t seem to give recommendations. Maybe because they review so infrequently it’s hard for readers to get a handle on their tastes?

  13. Jane
    May 28, 2013 @ 21:14:35

    We are testing out some new reviewers and if we get regular content and it works out, we will start gathering recommendations from them as well.

  14. Review: Elizabeth Camden’s INTO THE WHIRLWIND “Do Not Go Gently” | Miss Bates Reads Romance
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 06:40:34

    [...] sought to read Camden’s effort after the recommendation that Against The Tide received from Dear Author. There is much to love about this story, says Miss Bates, but there are caveats and warnings for [...]

  15. Daily Deals: A few award winning historicals, a PNR and a suspense
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 14:02:04

    [...] Kim brought this deal to my attention. Thanks Kim! Kelly gave this book an A- and reviewed it here at Dear Author. [...]

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