HelenKay: From the title of this book you may expect a swashbuckling alpha hero – sort of a romance read of old where the strong handsome man kidnaps the desperate heroine and through a serious of arguments and fights love blooms. In these other tales, financial interests or vengeance motivates the hero’s actions. Love isn’t the goal; it’s the result.
In some ways that throwback description fits Marshall’s Captain Sinister’s Lady but not really. Morgan Roberts does capture Amanda Stephenson and does decide he wants to keep her. Those characteristics remain. The difference here is in the why and how. The problem here is in the when. One of the drawbacks of the book is that the majority of the romance action takes place in in the first third of the book, leaving the last 200 pages with little conflict or driving force.
Upon her husband’s death, Amanda leaves the comfort of Yorkshire for the unknown in America. In this case, the unknown turns out to be Florida. With little money and few possessions to her name, she starts her journey by ship. The only items of real value she brings along are her skills making fancy creams and soaps…and her looks. Like the other women in her family, she is blessed (cursed?) with the body of a courtesan and a family history that dates back to a King’s mistress. Some assume – just by looking at her – that she earns her money on her back. Not so. Her plan is to relocate and open her own business – one outside of the bedroom.
Morgan has other ideas. Morgan and his crew are privateers or wreckers – individuals authorized by governments to confiscate enemy ships and their hauls. Morgan’s reputation is that of a bloodthirsty pirate. Rumors circulate about him stealing, killing the innocent, and committing a host of other sins. In reality, Morgan isn’t so sinister. He works within other people’s rules and doesn’t harm passengers or the crews of the ships he boards. He’s there to claim the goods.
Morgan and Amanda meet when Amanda’s ship runs aground. Morgan relieves the ship of its booty, part of that booty being Amanda. For her own good, of course. The first meeting leads to Amanda sustaining an injury, which leads to Morgan insisting she return to his ship, which leads to Morgan deciding he wants to settle down and get married to Amanda, which leads to Morgan tricking Amanda into spending time on a deserted island alone with him, which leads to a relationship. All leading to Morgan proposing marriage around page 130.
This fast forward from privateer on the high seas to guy seeking a wife to live with him on the farm feels quick. Part of the trouble with Morgan’s new goals stems from the fact they don’t appear to be grounded in anything other than Morgan meeting Amanda and spending time – and not that much – with her. By the time he lures her to the island to be alone with her, he has already made his future plans for their lives together. While romantic in a love-at-first-sight type of way, this jump weakens Morgan’s character development. There is some expectation with a title such as Captain Sinister that Morgan’s alpha streak will need taming. The question then is, whether or not Amanda is the woman capable of filling that role. In part, that’s the disappointment here. Morgan is tame. Yes, he’s strong and commanding, but there is something missing – something that’s hard to describe. He starts out good, decides what he wants immediately (Amanda and a stable life) and doesn’t have to fight too hard to get it. You want him to fight. You want him to work for it. When he doesn’t you feel a bit cheated.
While the plot clips along and keeps the reader interested, there is a sense that these characters don’t really have anywhere to go. A sense that the reader is peeking in on the lives of these people but not engaged in them. The writing is clean and enjoyable and, despite the numerous characters and ships and locations, the story is easy to follow and a very quick read. For every positive – and there are many – there is a slight disappointment. For example, Amanda and Morgan are charming, but they lack the depth that might take this romance to another level. The attraction between them is sweet, and later in the book grows a bit more sexy, but the sense of struggle is missing. There is a neatness and inevitability present that stifles what would be an otherwise exciting plot – a bad boy who’s not so bad kidnaping a woman who needs a fresh start, and the fight to figure out if they can have a future together. The possibilities are endless, but the execution doesn’t live up to the title.
HELENKAY’S FINAL THOUGHTS: A fast read with cute characters and terrific plot potential that doesn’t quite live up to the title.
Wendy: There’s simply something intrinsically sigh-worthy about a hero who captains a sea fairing vessel. Perhaps it’s the power of the command, or the undulating sea, or just knowing the quarters are close and the space on deck is finite. Whatever it is, that something has been mined in romance to great success and great failure. And mined. And mined. And mined. So why do it again? Because the command is still powerful, the sea still undulates, the quarters are still close, and the heroes—especially the pirate variety—are still sigh-worthy. Darlene Marshall’s Captain Sinister’s Lady is set amidst the familiar romance confines of gentlemen pirates and the high seas, but focuses on the less well-trodden waterways in and around Florida. As romance novel settings go, Florida is a rather surprisingly underused local, especially given the state’s rich history on land and on the sea. It’s this pairing of a familiar construct with a distinctive setting that makes Captain Sinister’s Lady a success.
When Captain Morgan Roberts—a.k.a. Captain Sinister—comes across the Penelope run aground in the Straits of Florida, he expects an easy salvage: loot the ship of whatever is worth taking and be on his way. That’s what privateers do. But, as would happen, things don’t run as smoothly as planned. Morgan finds himself with the ailing ship’s cargo and one of its passengers: the pretty widow, Amanda Stephensen. Amanda is bound for Charleston and her deceased husband’s relatives, hoping to build a new life and a soap making business. Morgan too is looking to build a new and different life for himself. With Florida newly in the hands of the United States, Morgan knows the U.S. Navy will soon attempt to control the coastal waterways and end the pirating—and privateering—that has made the seas both profitable and treacherous. Morgan plans for a life on land with a wife and possibly children to follow; with Amanda so conveniently close, Morgan makes the questionably motivated decision to delay Amanda’s arrival to Charleston. In other words, like any good pirate, Morgan kidnaps the damsel in distress believing he can woo her into being his.
For all that the title, Captain Sinister’s Lady, refers to the heroine, the book belongs to Morgan Roberts the privateer behind the moniker. Morgan is a surprisingly nuanced character who, at story’s beginning, is not an obvious candidate for hero, but rather a bedraggled pirate—or privateer—who makes questionable choices. Marshall molds Morgan into true hero material, allowing him to grow and undergo changes that are more than skin deep. For her part, Amanda is standard plucky fair, who rises to the circumstances around her and creates a believable balance between the modern woman readers look for and a woman true to the period of time she belongs to.
Soon after Morgan kidnaps Amanda—though really it’s more a matter of distraction—he realizes that she is not a pawn to fall neatly into his plans, but a person with hopes of her own. It’s then that his proposal of marriage comes. While Morgan and Amanda have begun to lay the foundation of what one can hope to be an exciting relationship to follow, the proposal comes early in the book and early in their courtship. There is a fear that with Morgan’s plans revealed, the wind is lost from the story’s sails. But, that isn’t the case. Morgan and Amanda remain compelling as their romance continues and each of their personal journeys plays out.
Marshall tells her story through an omniscient point of view that stays mostly with Amanda, but straying for too short periods to Morgan and then makes the occasional hop to secondary characters. The absence of Morgan’s point of view for long stretches weighs on the read and begs, oddly enough, whether Amanda could have shined more brightly if viewed more often through Morgan’s rose-colored glasses. The omniscient point of view coupled with importance of setting, history, flora and fauna, harkens back to the sweeping historicals of the eighties which serves to add and detract from the story in turns.
In the end, Captain Sinister’s Lady succeeds on its charm and by lending a new landscape to a well-known path.
You can visit Darlene here and purchase this book here.
**This entry has been edited from the time of the original post. All comments were moved, but are otherwise unaltered. Many apologies to Ms. Marshall and our readers for the laspe that allowed an incomplete review to post. All fault is mine. Wendy**