REVIEW: High Seas Stowaway by Amanda McCabe
Dear Ms. McCabe,
Last 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+