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Caribbean

REVIEW: The Privateer by Danielle Thorne

REVIEW: The Privateer by Danielle Thorne

Dear Ms Thorne,

the_privateerI’ll come right out and admit that this book took me a long time to get into. There’s a huge cast of characters and while this normally doesn’t bother me, here I felt adrift for ages before I finally began to get a handle on them. And not only was I adrift in sheer numbers but unsure as to which ones were destined to play major vs. minor roles.

The plot meanders along and I had to have faith that at some point you’d tie it all together. And while the title indicates that this story will center on pirates and privateers, what we see for most of the book is the Royal Navy and only towards the end do any pirates show up. Perhaps the word unsettled best describes my feelings as I read it since it took a long time to settle into the story.

There are rumors swirling throughout the Caribbean. Something major is happening and it involves a mysterious pirate. His name is uncertain, his goal is unknown and the flag he sails under changes with each attack on any ship he finds. Julius Bertrand has his spies out trying to unravel the whole mess but up until now, he and Royal Naval Captain Shane Adair have had to hunt relentlessly through the islands to try and catch their man.

Miss Kate O’Connell and her father are recently arrived on the island of San Madrid. Formerly attached to the Navy himself, Dr. O’Connell and Kate have traveled the world far from their native city of Boston in the colony of Massachusetts. We quickly see that twenty-five year old Kate is an outspoken woman whose passionate defensive and offensive debates can put her at odds with polite society. While this might ruffle the feathers of the women, many of the men admire her spirit even if they come to rue being on her wrong side.

What no one on the island knows is that Julius Bertrand is as much a hunted man as he is a hunter of men. There’s a relentless old enemy with a score to settle and if he must pillage and destroy the island to get Bertrand, he’ll do it with a smile on his evil face.

So we’ve got Kate and Bertrand, Kate’s father, Bertrand’s crew, Miriam – a San Madrid shopkeeper, the various persons of society on the island, Captain Adair, some spies, a bad pirate, a loathsome planter and assorted other characters. Who goes with whom, who I should be cheering for and who should get booed when they show up took a lot of energy as I read the story. It took a long, damn time to become engaged with the characters and there is initially a lot of stuff introduced and explained and shown that only made me shrug and wonder why you took the time with it. For some of them, I could see why you kept me in the dark but for others, a scorecard would have been nice.

In a book called “The Privateer,” I expect some privateering. I expect more swashbuckling. I expect more adventure and not just all crammed in at the end. The blend of life on San Madrid and hunt for the pirate is not evenly done. I almost forget about the privateer aspect in all the social stuff on the island. Once the action truly begins, it’s a runaway train but we have to sit and sip a lot of tea before we get there.

Kate is impulsive and outspoken yet steadily so. You make this a central part of her personality from the start and while she might temper it slightly at the end, she’s still basically the same person. Points for this. I do like how she and her father are devoted to each other and her family support from Boston shows she is loved.

Bertrand is more of a mystery. There were times when I almost didn’t like him. His toadying to Lady Spencer left a bad taste in my mouth even after the explanation of his reasons. He goes to Kate after the shark attack to probe her feelings for him then proposes to another woman? WTH? But on the other hand, it did accurately convey the conventions of the time, namely that social position was very important and that people would sacrifice their feelings to advance.

McAllister – what’s the deal with him? I was left with the impression that he felt he had in some way betrayed Bertrand but the whole relationship was never finally explained to my satisfaction. There’s also a lot of things we have to wait until almost the end of the book to understand such as how Bertrand and Adair’s plans were known to the enemy, how Meriam knows all Bertrand’s secrets and Bertrand’s history with the pirates.

I don’t understand relationship between Meriam Beckett and Kate. Most of the time, Beckett is mad and spitting at Kate, enough that you have Kate recoiling as if she’d been slapped. Yet Kate keeps insisting the two are friends and at times, Meriam thinks so too. Again, much of this just doesn’t add up.

I also had problems with some of the adjectives you used. One character is described as having violent freckles – do they pick bar fights when they’re drunk? Jewels leaking from a casket make me think of calling a plumber. At one point you say that sounds of battle travel further than sights yet the sight of the battle is what was seen, and described, first. Anger splattered Kate’s face. Like a pie fight? The image of ragged breeches working on a ship made me laugh. Kate is described as shying away as if from something she can’t see. WTF? Why shy from something that’s invisible to you? Yet I will say that other descriptions were wonderful such as the nice imaging of the island shore before the shark attack or the island forests wreathed with stars at night.

There’s lots of violence that isn’t tempered. Readers need to be prepared. That being said, this is a pirate novel and I felt it was realistic for the genre, the characters involved and the time. My bloodthirsty inner wench was happy that both Bertrand and Kate end up taking care of their personal villains. There’s nothing left for any court to decide or take care of and no one is sent off somewhere to live in exile and repent all their days. That was very satisfying.

In the end, I am glad I persevered and finished the story. As long time readers here know, I adore a book that uses unusual times and/or places so “The Privateer” does get bonus points for that. I see from your MySpace page that this is one of your first published novels so I hope that you will continue to hone your craft. Despite this grade, I look to see more stories from you. C+

~Jayne

REVIEW: High Seas Stowaway by Amanda McCabe

REVIEW: High Seas Stowaway by Amanda McCabe

Dear Ms. McCabe,

037329530801lzzzzzzzLast year when I read your book “A Sinful Alliance,” the secondary Italian character Balthazar Grattiano caught my eye. Well, he and the Tudor setting. So I was a happy woman when I learned that he was going to get his own book and that it would take place on the early Spanish Main. I know I don’t have to say that this setting isn’t a dime a dozen in romance novels.

Bianca Simonetti and Balthazar Grattiano share a common history. Years ago when she was a younger woman, they met, talked and shared their dreams while his powerful father visited her tarot card reading mother in Venice. Bianca never dares dream that this handsome man might be a more a part of her world than that since his family is one of the richest and most influential in the city.

The hopes she does have for her future, finding a merchant to marry, bearing his children and helping run his business, are destroyed on the day that Ermano Grattiano murders her mother. Knowing he might come back to eliminate her as a witness, Bianca flees for her life and leaves behind her girlish fantasies about Balthazar – who for all she knows is an accomplice to the crime.

Now it’s 1532 and seven years since those events. Bianca runs a small tavern in Santo Domingo. It’s not fancy but it’s hers and the bedrock of the life she’s built since her Spanish sailor husband died. Then, of all the gin rum joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she he walks into mine hers. And Bianca decides he’s not walking out again until she gets some answers. But there’s someone else who wants something from Balthazar – and that’s to see him dead. So…who’ll get what they want first?

The book starts with Bianca and Balthazar as two fairly young and idealistic people. They sense a connection with the other. Though from different social circles, each understands the other’s desire to see new places, venture beyond the Venice they know and to see below its dark surface – beautifully illustrated in imagery of the city’s canals.

Bianca has heard all the rumors about Balthazar – how good a lover he is, the fine palazzo his family lives in – and listens to women of all social strata sigh over him when they come to her mother for a tarot reading. But she gets to know the real man – his love for ships and navigation and travel. Which all confuses later on when she tries to untangle the events of her mother’s murder and her feelings for Balthazar. Is he the honorable man she thought she knew or just a younger edition of his ruthless father?

She’s more educated than most young women of her day but still has trouble imagining herself anywhere else or anything other than some man’s wife and mother of his children. What sights/sounds there are in the known world of Europe, much less in the New World, are almost beyond her comprehension. This little bit background on her set me right down in the age and time. Today we know so much more than people of that time, even educated people, could possibly fathom but to them most of the world truly was terra incognito.

I could feel Bianca’s desire for vengeance as she stood over her murdered mother and her fear of what could happen to her if the Grattianos discovered she still lived. I’m thinking, yeah baby, we’re going to get some revenge scenes! Whoo-hoo, don’t mess with an Italian who’s been wronged. And even seven years later, Bianca’s initial feeling when she sees Balthazar is to avenge her dead mother. Which all makes her almost immediate subsequent confusion over the issue hard for me to understand

When Bianca initially plans on hiding out on Balthazar’s ship, she seems to have a plan. She’s going to find out what happened all those years ago in Venice. She’s going to demand and get answers from Balthazar. Yet, once she’s onboard and he questions her about her reasoning for her actions, suddenly she truly seems to have no clue why she did what she did. There doesn’t seem to be any dissembling on her part or efforts to lie to him in order to throw him off the scent – she just genuinely appears to have forgotten why she ditched her tavern – which was all she had – and took this gamble. WTF?

While onboard ship, Balthazar muses that he wants to make Bianca smile and take the wary look out of her eyes. But everyone else seems charmed by her – these are more charm school sailors who instantly adore her than rugged men of the sea.

The middle sequence is very slow, very lazy, very laid back in a drifting kind of way. Which is okay but, sorry to say, the slow aspect is what stands out for me. Then we reach Balthazar’s island of Vista Linda and it all becomes like an artsy European film with lots of slow-mo scenes, montages of happy Bianca and Balthazar – sleeping, dancing, making love, eating, dancing, making love, Bianca dancing with a broom and them making love. After which, they make love.

Then there are the emo sections in which Balthazar talks about his evil father, how he was afraid he’d be like his evil father, how he feels about killing his evil father and again that he worries his blood will tell and the evil will continue. Very, very emo but then he’s Italian.

And Bianca wonders why she doesn’t feel the need for any more vengeance, how she longs to be with Balthazar, how she’s worried about him possibly having a family back in Italy then – whoops – he’s really got one on the way here. See above with all the making love.

Diego seems to stand for vengeance run amok and as a foil to Bianca. His desire for revenge ruled him and ruined his life while Bianca overcomes her need for revenge on the family in general and Balthazar in particular. At first he’s kind of interesting when he thinks Balthazar is dead and realizes that this doesn’t take care of the empty, hollow feeling he has about his wife’s death. But then he becomes just a cardboard pop-up villain who we all know is going to show up at the end of act III.

The fight sequence was kind of interesting but not really enough to slake my thirst for swashbuckling. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get more of that. When I see a book about ships in the Caribbean anywhere from then to the 1750s, I expect swordplay, more swordplay and then some swashbuckling to finish it off. I don’t expect the heroine to dance around a room with a broomstick like a Disney movie. Obviously, it’s not your fault that I didn’t get what I mistakenly expected but I’m still fighting that let down feeling.

What happened to the last part of chapter 19? My copy of the book just cuts off in the middle of a sentence with them reaching Balthazar’s house on Vista Linda and Bianca checking out the furniture. And what happened to her first husband? I wanted to know more about the lost seven years. Why she married him? How she/they ended up in Hispanialo? Did I miss all this?

It turned out to not be the book I was looking for but just might be the book others want to read. Not everyone wants duels to the death or massive amounts of sword scenes. Again kudoes for using the Spanish Main of 1532. More praise for having an Italian hero and heroine because God knows we need more of them in Romance Land. C+

~Jayne

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