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The Captain's Lady by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5948-5
*
When Captain Travers of the Royal Navy goes to Tortola to impress a few men into his crew and commandeer a few ships, things go tragically wrong. Somehow he and his men manage to kill everyone Alexis Quinton loves. Travers leaves Tortola only half-aware he has made a mortal enemy, for Alexis doesn't vow to destroy him until after he leaves.

Captain Tanner Cloud of the United States Navy is a witness to everything that happens. When Alexis finishes making her promises and setting her purpose, she faints from injuries received in the melee. Cloud, unwilling to let her go and concerned by the damage done to her, carries her away to his ship and puts out to sea before she regains consciousness.

When she awakens, she tells him she considers herself his prisoner and swears to escape any way she can. And Cloud promises to do everything he can to stop her.

By then, I didn't care.

The reason I say "by then," is that the tragedy driving Alexis through the rest of the book begins on page 40. The prior pages are spent on a scene where Cloud tells members of James Madison's government that the privateer Alex Danty is a woman; on Alexis' miserable London childhood; her rescue from prostitution; her brief stint as a cabin boy on an American merchant ship; her life with her foster parents on Tortola.

Except for the scene with Cloud, the rest is backstory, the stuff that happens before the real story begins. It might have been entertainment if it had been shown as scenes: a scene with her first, horrid English foster parents as they discuss selling her into prostitution; a scene showing her as a cabin boy; the scene where her foster parents take her in. Instead, we are simply told all this happens, as if we were reading a biography of Alexis Quinton, not a romance.

I did hope, once the story moved to the fatal meeting between Alexis' loved ones and Captain Travers, that the distance between me and the story would close, that scenes would be written so vividly I would feel as if I was there.

No such luck. Events that would pack an emotional wallop if played out as they happened and from the points-of-view of the characters with the most to lose, are told from a chilly, dispassionate distance from the viewpoints of observers:

He watched, helpless, as Alexis broke from her captor's grip and ran to Travers. She threw herself at his feet and begged him to stop the flogging. Bile rose in Cloud's throat. He knew this girl wanted to do nothing but kill the man in front of her; yet she was forced to beg instead. It was harder to look on her face as she stilled her pride, than it was to see her husband's raw and bleeding flesh. This was an anniversary she would always remember.

"Captain Travers! Please! Stop it! You'll kill him! Don't make him suffer anymore!" Her voice was soft as the whip was sharp. "You've had your revenge! Leave him alone!"

This is a scene where Alexis is watching the torture of a dear friend. Cloud mistakenly takes him for her husband because her gaze is so full of love. Frankly, I wanted to know what Alexis was feeling from her perspective, not Cloud's. I wanted to see what she was thinking, how she recognized she would have to swallow all her considerable pride and beg Travers for a man's life. I had substantially less interest in what Cloud "knew" about her feelings.

And that raises another problem I had with the book. Over and over again, we are told that Alexis, Cloud, or both, "know" what the other is feeling. "He knew her purpose was too important;" "she knew he would do everything in his power to stop her." But we never see why they "know," and this contributed to my feeling that I was reading an extremely long synopsis of a romance, rather than the romance itself.

The Captain's Lady is a reprint of Passion's Bride, originally published in 1984. Although the copyright page gives 1998 as the copyright date for The Captain's Lady, the fact that this is a reprint is noted below the copyright information page as well as in the "Dear Reader" note from Jo Goodman on the facing page.

The note also says that the title change is "the only significant alteration" to the book. I think this might have been a really thrilling, adventurous romance if significant alteration had been made primarily by writing the story as if were happening now and not a few days ago. Some readers may enjoy a careful distance between themselves and the story. If you're not one of them, this book is not for you.

--Katy Cooper


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