|Surrender by Heather Graham|
|(Topaz, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-40690-7|
Have you read the first three installments of Heather Graham's ongoing saga of the McKenzie family of Florida? Do you share Graham's fascination with the history of her home state? Do you like books set during the Civil War that provide a real feel for what this war between brothers must have been like? Do you like romances in which the heroine and hero spend much of the book fighting their feelings for each other? Can you accept some pretty extreme coincidences as plot devices?
If you have answered yes to all or most of the above questions, then I recommend you read Surrender. But if you mostly answered no, then perhaps you ought to pass this one by.
Graham began her saga in Runaway, the story of Jarrett and Tara McKenzie, set in the early 1830s. Jarrett was the son of one of Florida's first settlers and had established a prosperous estate near the fledgling fort of Tampa. Captive was the story of Jarret's half-brother James (his father had taken a Seminole woman as his second wife) and Teela, daughter of an army officer who had come to Florida to fight the Indians. Rebel brought the story to the eve of the Civil War and centered on Jarrett's eldest son, Ian, who is forced to marry a young woman after accidentally compromising her. Ian, a West Point graduate, remains loyal to the Union when secession comes to Florida. His wife, Alaina, is a rabid rebel who takes to spying for the South from her privileged position as an army officer's wife.
That I feel it necessary to provide all the above information before discussing Surrender is a sign of the potential problem that this book might present to the uninitiated. I truly don't think that the story or relationships will make sense to a reader unfamiliar with the previous books.
Surrender, like its predecessor, uses as its plot device a heroine and hero whose loyalties are divided. Jerome McKenzie is the son of James and Teela. He has been raised in the wilds of southern Florida (on the shores of Biscayne Bay) and has always had an affinity for the sea. When the story opens, he is the captain of his own ship in the infant navy of the Confederacy, the raider Lady Varina, and is already famous as a smuggler and commerce raider.
Risa Magee is the daughter of a Union general. Once she had hoped to marry Ian McKenzie, but this dream was destroyed when he found himself forced to marry Alaina. But, despite the fact that Alaina had married the man she had loved, Risa had become her good friend. Her friendship with Alaina leads her to make her way down the Florida coast to warn her friend that her espionage plans have been betrayed and that there is a plot for her capture.
This daring excursion into Biscayne Bay leads to Risa falling into the hands of Jerome McKenzie. Jerome is able to warn and save Alaina, but when he discovers that Risa has learned his plans and is likely to report them to the nearest Union authorities, well, he chooses to take her with him aboard the Lady Varina.
Jerome is intrigued by this Yankee beauty who is so full of fearless ardor for the Northern cause. (Indeed, one of the problems I had with the book is that Risa seems too fearless to me. She is forever plunging into danger, seemingly without thinking. She is willing to bait her captor, to try to steal his plans, to try to warn his enemies. She is darn lucky that Jerome is a gentleman. In short, for me at least, Risa borders on that least favorite of heroines, one who is "too stupid to live.")
Of course, the sparks between the two ultimately ignite, but neither is willing to admit their feelings for each other. Readers who prefer the hero and heroine to spend most of the story together may not like this book, since Risa and Jerome are separated by war for much of the novel. And I must admit that the contrivances and coincidences that do bring them together seem somewhat farfetched. Just when it seems that the two are about to admit that they love each other, Jerome is taken prisoner and blames Risa for betraying him.
Surrender, like its predecessors, is a dense and complex book. I do not regret reading it; indeed, I know of few novels in any genre that do a better job of recreating the ambience of the Civil War, with all the tragedy of a people forced to fight former friends and neighbors. I shall certainly read the next installment in the McKenzie sage. But I feel I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Surrender to any and all readers — just those who passed the quiz in the first paragraph.