Touched by Fire

Night Winds

Trust To Chance by Gwyneth Atlee
(Zebra, $ 5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7035-7
I wanted to give up on Trust To Chance after about 50 pages, but since I had to review it, I persevered. My interest perked up about 100 pages later, only to be disappointed, then drawn in and then let down in the end. That is too much of a roller coaster ride to say I enjoyed this book.

Set at the end of the Civil War, the story has a gloomy outlook, which casts a shadow over the romance. Rebecca Marston is an heiress from Philadelphia who defied her father to enlist in the woman’s nursing corp. She is a self-proclaimed woman’s activist who has decided she will never marry nor will she be under any man’s rule.

We meet her at the end of the war just as she has decided she is a failure as a nurse because she can’t stand the suffering anymore. She feels this failure to her core, and is not a pleasant person due to this sense of self-betrayal. Her cousin Drew, a doctor, takes her and two others on a picnic to try to cheer everyone up and celebrate Rebecca’s birthday. They are attacked by a band of Rebel raiders who decide to kidnap Rebecca, after killing Drew.

Jacob Fuller has just been released from Andersonville prison when the steamboat carrying all the released Yankee prisoners explodes and strands him and others on a piece of the ship. As they are floating in the river, they are “rescued” by these same Rebels.

Rebecca is forced to nurse these soldiers, three of whom have been burned. Jacob is just weak from the years in prisoner of war camps. The Rebel captain, Lewis Hall, has a score to settle with Rebecca’s father, and decides getting ransom money will help even the stakes. He is an intriguing character. It seems Captain Hall is a plantation owner who turned to raiding just months ago when he felt he was not being effective in the field. He has gathered a loose group of deserters and detestable types who he keeps in line with his size and expertise with gun and knives. He is at once a despicable criminal and a southern gentleman, and we never truly learn about him. I wonder if there is a sequel planned with Hall as the hero. If so, it might be interesting.

Hall finds a house located on what sounds like a hill surrounded by a moat. He imprisons the injured men and Rebecca there, threatening his raiders with castration if they try to touch Rebecca. I had a difficult time with this section since I had a hard time envisioning the house, among other things.

Rebecca is a weepy miss when forced to keep dealing with the blood and chores, yet she readily accepts that she might be seeing a ghost in the house. (This was a weird plotline that I think was an attempt to enliven what was a fairly dull area of the book. It did not work for me.) When one of the raiders breaks into the house and threatens her with rape, she stands up to him until he leaves. Then she reverts into a wimpy woman afraid of her own shadow and her feelings. The next minute, she is seducing Jacob. The roller coaster ride is in full swing!

Another paradox is Jacob. He is generally the hero type, yet he is tortured by something that occurred with his dead wife. Like Rebecca, his character fluctuates between a strong champion and protector to a discouraged, broken man who doesn’t feel he is worthy of a wealthy lady. This lack of consistency distracts from the storyline and adds to the feeling of being on that roller coaster.

One of the ups was the romance between these two. Once they got together, it was a good seduction scene and some nice by-play. Then of course, they retreated to their contradictory characters and acted like they despised each other. But the scene when he finally proposes is cute and almost satisfying.

The only other two characters that are well defined are Asa, the man out to rape Rebecca and Nate, one of the other prisoners. Asa is the epitome of evil…and then the author feels the need to explain his awful childhood that left him so demented. Why? He is an evil man…every book needs one…I don’t want to pity him, I just want to hate his ways!

Nate is a young man who has seen too many war horrors, yet seems to maintain some small touch of naiveté and enthusiasm for life. If he was the only character that wobbled, I might have bought him…but with all the other inconsistencies, he just became another disappointment.

My advice on this one is skip it and look for another book to Trust To Chance.

--Shirley Lyons

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