A Cajun Dream


Gabrielle by Cherie Claire
(Zebra Ballad, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-821-76802-6
Gabrielle concludes the Acadians trilogy with the story of Gabrielle Gallant, a young Acadian woman, and Jean Bouclaire, a notorious privateer and smuggler. The novel opens with a touching scene between Jean and his illegitimate daughter, Delphine, who begs her father to let her travel with him on his ship. When Jean refuses, Delphine confesses that her spendthrift mother has wasted Jeanís money on clothes and entertainments, rather than on Delphineís education. In the ensuing scenes, Jean kills the motherís lover in self-defense, and now he must run from the authorities.

Jean retreats to Attakapas Poste, a small settlement in the Louisiana bayou country where his friend Antoine lives. Before he leaves the territory, Jean asks Antoine to send money to Delphine and to make sure she is well cared for. Unbeknownst to Jean, Gabrielle is attending a party at Antoineís home. Jean and Gabrielle met and fell in love in an earlier book, but have been separated by Jeanís smuggling activities. Now they meet again, only to be separated once more.

Gabrielle is tired of being a good girl. She feels tremendous responsibility toward her mother, who clings to the hope that her long-missing husband will find them in Louisiana and the family will be reunited. Gabrielle feels partially responsible for her fatherís disappearance and would never hurt her mother. But she longs to be free, to sail the seas with Jean and feel the wind in her hair, and none of these things will come to pass if she stays in rural Louisiana. When the opportunity arises, she decides to follow Jean.

The atmosphere is well done, and Jean is certainly a vivid and easily likable character. Gabrielle is adequately spunky without crossing the line to stupid behavior. But the story changes locations with lightning speed and often with little explanation, with the result that itís hard to follow. At one point I wasnít sure if Jeanís ship was on a Caribbean island or in the Mississippi River.

But the biggest hurdle with this book is that it felt rushed and unpolished, with writing that was decidedly clunky in spots. Toward the end, I felt as though the author were merely stringing events together at a frantic pace in order to get the loose ends of the trilogy tied up, and several pretty unlikely coincidences were used to push things along. For example, Gabrielle meets a man on Jeanís ship. Heís her best friendís long-lost father. Delphine meets a man in a convent. Heís lost his memory due to a bump on the head. He turns out to be Gabrielleís long-lost father. People arrive in the nick of time, letters are saved from a sinking ship that just happen to turn the events of the whole story, and the overall effect is of a plot too weak to stand that must be propped up with contrivances.

The overall impression of Gabrielle is of two interesting characters and a decent romance, bogged down by a plot that canít support them adequately. This trilogy simply fizzled out.

--Cathy Sova

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