Surrender of a Siren
by Tessa Dare
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-345-50687-0
****
One of the advantages of reviewing is the discovery of talented authors and enjoyable books that one would probably otherwise never have tried. Surrender of a Siren is such a find. While I have heard good things about new author Tessa Dare (her first book was published last month), I probably would have passed up Surrender. The title didn’t grab me and the blurb, all about taking “passion to the high seas,”  didn’t especially appeal. But duty called, and I sat down without much enthusiasm to do my duty. What I found was a delightful and entertaining story that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

The siren of the novel is Sophia Jane Hathaway, a twenty-year old beauty whom we meet at a low tavern in Gravesend. She is looking for Captain Grayson whose ship, the Aphrodite is sailing on the tide for the island of Tortula. Of course, she runs into trouble and of course, the handsome captain rescues her. Sophia introduces herself as Miss Jane Turner, a governess who has taken a position on the island. She pleads with him to let her sail on the ship and Gray, not loathe to have a lovely young woman on board, takes her out to the ship.

Sophia is so desperate to leave England immediately because she is, in fact, a runaway bride. In a few days, she is scheduled to marry Sir Toby Aldridge in what has been termed the society wedding of the year. But she is marrying not for love but rather to further her rich family’s social ambitions. She wants more from life than a tepid marriage. On her twenty-first birthday, two months hence, she will gain control of her fortune of £20,000. So she has concocted this rather elaborate and potentially dangerous scheme to avoid the parson’s mousetrap and to win her freedom. Sophia undoubtedly acts before she thinks.

  Gray is not the captain of the Aphrodite but rather its owner. The ship is captained by his half-brother Joss who does not approve of his bringing a young lady on board as the only passenger. Joss notes his brother's interest in Miss Jane and extracts a vow from Gray that he will behave properly towards the young woman. Gray gives his word, perhaps not realizing how difficult it will be to keep his promise.

Gray has an additional reason to behave himself. He is determined to restore his family to respectability. His father was the scapegrace son of a duke who was sent off to Tortula in hopes that he would reform. He didn't, wasting his fortune and leaving bastards (including Joss) around the island. Gray sold the family property and purchased a ship. For years, he was a very successful privateer. Now that the war is over, he is trying to establish a shipping firm and hopes to bring his sister out in London. It will not serve his purposes if, on his first “respectable” crossing, he seduces a young woman.

Thus is the stage set for a high level of sexual tension. And it’s blistering. As is its culmination. Whew!

  To my considerable surprise, I really liked the heroine. I'm not generally fond of very young and foolish characters. I gather Sophia was an important secondary character in Goddess of the Hunt and I imagine she was portrayed therein as something of a siren. In the current book, she is presented as a young woman who simply wants to live and is pretty confused about what she wants out of life. In short, she is a pretty typical twenty-year old. Sophia is a talented artist, a nice person, and a character who grows up very nicely by the end of the book.

Gray grows very nicely during the story as well. Like many regency romance heroes, he has led a dissolute life. A woman in every port pretty much sums it up. He is a swashbuckling, compelling character. But he is also an honorable man who keeps his word, who cares for his family, who cares for the men who serve under him, who does the right thing. No wonder Sophia falls for him. Heck, I fell for him.

  Of course, Sophia's deception threatens their relationship as does her now disgraced position in the ton. There is also all sorts of seafaring derring-do and excitement and danger.

  Tessa Dare has an elegant writing style. Her descriptions of the sea voyage, of the seaman who serve on the ship, of the feelings of her characters are almost lyrical. She is perhaps the most promising new historical romance author I have encountered in quite a while. I will be looking for the first book in the series, Goddess of the Hunt, and I will certainly buy A Lady of Persuasion when it is released at the end of the month. Unless Dede asks me to review it! (Hint, hint.)   

--Jean Mason


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