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REVIEW: Gallant Match by Jennifer Blake

Dear Ms. Blake,

077832619501lzzzzzzzLast year I enjoyed another in your “Masters at Arms” series so when the arc arrived for “Gallant Match,” I made sure to make room for it on my reading schedule. Once again we’re back in second quarter 19th century New Orleans (May 1846 to be precise) but this time with an added bonus trip to Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Sonia Bonneval catches only a glimpse of the tall man who’s arrived to speak with her father but somehow she knows he’s trouble. He looks to be one of those uncouth Americans from the frontier – a Kaintuck. So she decides to stress the style of the women of New Orleans to wear face paint since she thinks it would disgust the boorish clod she imagines him to be. She’s got to get him to turn down the job her father is offering. That way she can avoid the planned marriage and flee to her grandmother in Mobile.

Kerr Wallace wouldn’t care if Sonia did back flips down the Passage de la Bourse in her shimmy. Through her he’s finally got a line on the man he’s been hunting for four years: the man responsible for the death of Kerr’s younger brother. Rouillard might have evaded justice this long but Kerr intends to see him dead. The idea that he’s delivering this young woman into the hands of a coward gives him slight pause but Kerr figures she’ll be a rich widow soon enough. What neither counts on is how some gun running and a declaration of war will interrupt their plans.

Readers looking for American set historicals generally have to hunt a long time. And what they usually find are Westerns. Now I love a good Western but if an author can deliver something else, I’m happier than a clam at high tide. With the “Masters at Arms” series, you deliver. We’ve got maitre d’armes heroes and – in the two books I’ve read – heroines who aren’t shy, shrinking violets.

Sonia remembers Rouillard from her childhood and nothing she remembers is good. Thus I’m more willing to watch her try and escape the fate her father has planned for her than if she were just in a snit over nothing. Why would her father be willing to hand her over? As Sonia’s Tante Lilly reminds her, men make the decisions and women have to try and work within them to the best of their ability. Maybe one day life for women will be different but arranged marriages, made for family and business purposes, are still the norm in Creole society.

Kerr has been hunting Rouillard ever since the end of the disastrous Mier Expedition. Delivering Rouillard’s bride to him in Vera Cruz will provide the chance Kerr’s been waiting for. None of Sonia’s slippery tricks will be allowed to work, even if Kerr finds himself admiring her spirit and inventiveness. I like that Kerr doesn’t stoop to taking out his revenge on Sonia. I’ve had enough of “heroes” using innocent women that way.

The first half of the book delivers your characters to their departure for Mexico. And up to then as far as the plot is concerned, it’s a fairly standard historical. It’s when the steam packet journey down the Mississippi River and across the Gulf of Mexico begins that things really pick up. Though your descriptions, I could see the flora and fauna that slip by as the Lime Rock cruises down to the Gulf. The different passengers on board delineate the strata of society and our characters’ place in it. The horror of the attack by the Mexican gunboat shows that human nature, in the face of a sinking ship, hasn’t changed much.

The two day journey through the jungle Sonia and Kerr undertake after swimming ashore makes me thankful for modern insect repellent and that scorpions aren’t common in my part of the world. Though I would like a glimpse of a disdainful jaguar as he saunters through his domain. I’ve heard that Mexican hospitality is among the best in the world as Sonia and Kerr discover, even if Kerr has to dodge the admiring widow Dona Francesca. And if I could make the journey down to Vera Cruz in something more comfortable than a diligence, your descriptions of the beauty of the countryside make me want to try it.

Though I expected Sonia and Kerr to do the dirty before arriving at Rouillard’s home, at least you provide a raison d’être that fits with the story rather than the standard “I want one night of hot lurve to last me a lifetime!” that most heroines wail as their excuse while they rip off their corset covers.

Rouillard is the villain you’ve made him out to be through the entire book. No revelations here though he is deliciously evil and cowardly. One character did surprise me. I think you did a great job of concealing his true intentions. One thing did disappoint me and that is for a book about a master swordsman, there’s very little actual sword play. I guess Kerr couldn’t challenge the jaguar to a duel, especially as Kerr had lost his sword cane when the ship went down, but the fencing loving wench in me is always panting for “more, more, more!”

I see there’s at least one more book in this series, though I’ll have to wait until next February for it. [Pout] In the meantime, thanks for continuing to write close to home and offering alternatives to the standard fare. B-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

13 Comments

  1. ErinV
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 10:25:52

    Hi Jayne! Delurking to comment on your review on one of my favorite authors. Have been a Jennifer Blake fan for ages and while this book wasn’t one of my favorites, the series as a whole has produced some keepers. You commented on how it hard it is to find American historicals. I thought you might be interested to know that Ms. Blake posted on her website recently that she was asked to change the locale of her new series to outside the US because American historicals don’t sell as well. While I have no doubt that she can write an entertaining story no matter where it is set, I have always enjoyed Ms. Blake’s descriptions of Old New Orleans and feel sad that even a major author can have to make these kind of changes based on what sells best.

  2. Jayne
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 13:38:24

    At least she’s being allowed to finish this series off. And the Tudor one she talks about starting on sounds interesting too.

  3. Evangeline
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 19:18:27

    I’ve been a Blake fan for years, but somehow never managed to complete the M-a-A series after reading and greatly enjoying the first book. Nice to see you enjoyed it Jayne! I wonder how Blake’s Tudors will turn out. She’s been writing New Orleans-set romances for so long…

    Ah well, que sera sera; at least I can play catch up (I believe I abandoned the series because of its annual releases).

  4. Jayne
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 19:54:52

    On her blog, she said the plan with the Tudor series is to save them until she’s finished them all then do a back to back to back release over 3 months.

  5. Jennifer Blake
    Feb 08, 2009 @ 11:04:08

    Dear Jayne:
    Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed your review. I laughed out loud over the Kerr “wouldn’t care if Sonia did back flips down the Passage de la Bourse in her shimmy” comment. Funny! and too neat: shimmy=chemise. I’m also glad I managed to avoid a couple of your pet peeves, though it really wasn’t that hard as they are some of mine as well.

    Your comments about the lack of American-set historicals warms my heart; I may send it to my editor and the powers that be at my publishing house who requested that I transfer the setting for my proposed New Orleans “Three Graces” trilogy across the pond. On the other hand, I’m having a grand time researching 1486 England and the court of the first Tudor, Henry VII; there’s something tremendously energizing about this change of scene, change of manners, dress, food, language, politics, flora and fauna. Can’t wait to see what you have to say about this set of books–or about the last of the Masters at Armes series, “Triumph in Arms” coming up in 2010.

  6. Jayne
    Feb 08, 2009 @ 19:26:21

    I guess I can see the point of The Powers That Be who want all books to be set in England since those sell better. But if all books are set in England, how can we tell if they sell better than something that’s not there as an option to buy? Just saying…. I know for me, I will seek out books with other settings just because I want to see more of the world, historically book speaking, than just one country.

    So, we have the last M-a-A book for next spring but when will the Tudor series arrive? In 2011?

  7. Jennifer Blake
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 07:55:27

    Yes, the Tudor books are projected for 2011. I’m writing these with 9 month deadlines, so the final book will be completed in April 2010. With that in mind, I’d say the books will be out around the end of the year. I could write faster–but after umpteen years of six month, 120-150,000 word deadlines, I don’t want the stress. Sorry, Evangeline!

    The preference for, or prejudice against, certain settings is a mystery. I’d like to write a book or two set in France, and would love to write an Italian locale, but the accepted wisdom is that readers don’t identify enough with these countries for decent sales.

    Just out of curiosity, what American settings strike you (and anyone else reading this) as having romantic possibilities. Other than New Orleans, of course!

    Best, Jennifer

  8. Jayne
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 08:15:48

    Not many books are set in Canada or Mexico but I’d love to read some. Asian countries get squat exposure but Jane and Jia have written bemoaning the lack. I enjoyed reading Jade Lee’s historical series set in China and plan to eventually read her newest Blaze book (already reviewed by Jia). I would also like to read some books set in France or Italy or Germany.

    As for American set books….Darlene Marshall did a trio set in early 19th C Florida. I love me a Colonial book, especially 17th Century. Believe it or not but I’ve read some great Reconstruction Era books. Turn of the 19th Century? Jazz/flappers? World War II?

  9. Jennifer Blake
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 18:03:34

    Yes, to Mexico–writing something set on either coast would be fun, I think. And I once thought seriously about doing a book set in early 1900s Florida, circa the period when Edison had a winter home in Ft. Myers; fabulous era, great setting. As I recall, I even bought 3-4 research books. Oh, and I once did a Louisiana Reconstruction romance, Southern Rapture. It had a hero who was a masked avenger by night but pretended to be a brain-damaged war veteran with the mind of 12-year-old by day. My agent said I’d never be able to pull off the idea, but the book was a best seller in trade size paperback. Hah! But enough. The main reason I asked for feedback was because a good writer-friend has had colonial era ideas turned down lately and doesn’t want to do another Native American story. It’s great to have a few idea-starters for her.
    Many thanks,
    Jennifer

  10. MaryK
    Feb 09, 2009 @ 21:45:24

    Excuse me while I have a fangirl moment.

    I love Jennifer Blake’s books. I have all of them and have been buying up the ebook versions when they come out at Fictionwise. Southern Rapture is a particular favorite because I’m a sucker for Scarlet Pimpernel plots. And Fierce Eden because the Natchez uprising is really interesting. The history in her books is always a vital part of the story; it’s not just worldbuilding to be slogged through. She also does honor really well.

    Okay, I’m done now. :)

  11. Jennifer Blake
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 01:57:46

    Blessing upon you for the kind words, MaryK. I’ll take them with me as I see what my mistreated knight of a hero, imprisoned in the Tower of London, has to say for himself today.
    Warmest, Jennifer

  12. Jayne
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:30:53

    Southern Rapture sounds cool. I’ll have to look for a copy of that.

    I also wanted to say that I appreciate that you’re setting your Tudor series at the court of Henry VII instead of using Henry VIII or one of his children. Yes, it’s set in England but it’s a different era than we usually see. Brava!

  13. Jennifer Blake
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 17:09:43

    Excellent, that you consider this setting (court of Henry VII) different in a *good* way. LOL The first Tudor was a fascinating man, as were the women in his life–particularly his mother and his wife. The period is interesting since it’s the last gasp of the Middle Ages, first breath of the Renaissance, and partakes of both. “Le Morte d’Arthur” was published the year before Henry came to the throne (written 15 years earlier by Sir Thomas Malory as he sat in the Tower of London on a charge of treason–and died there), so you have a revival of honor and chivalry based on increased interest in the Arthurian legend. A grand mix of influences. Can you tell I’m having a great time?
    Warmest, Jennifer

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