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Blue Moon by Jill Marie Landis
(Jove, $6.99. PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12527-X
Jill Marie Landis has chosen to revisit the American frontier of the early 19th century to tell the story of Noah LaCroix, a compelling secondary character from her earlier book, Just Once. She has crafted a story worthy of this enigmatic and interesting character.

For those who are unfamiliar with the previous book (and you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this story) Noah is a legendary half-breed river pilot, who is known as the Prince of the Ohio. A freak accident cost him his eye and left his handsome face scarred. Uncomfortable with the encroaching civilization, Noah chooses to retreat to an inaccessible cypress swamp in southern Illinois where he lives alone. One day, he hears an unaccustomed human scream and discovers a young woman who has lost her way in his swamp.

Olivia Bond has lost her way in more ways than one. A year earlier, her family was attacked by river pirates. The leader offered to allow her father, stepmother and two young half brothers to go free, provided they turn over the lovely, seventeen-year-old Olivia. Given the choice of certain death or surrendering Olivia, her family chose to acquiesce. Olivia was transported down river to New Orleans where she was sold to Darcy Lankanal, the owner of the city’s most popular and prosperous gambling house and brothel.

Darcy likes nothing more than introducing virgins to the pleasures of the flesh and then, when he is tired of them, introducing them to his customers. He treats his employees well and his cast-off women prosper nicely as does he. But Olivia is different from the rest. Though her traitorous body learns to well the lessons Darcy teaches, her spirit remains elusive. Thus, for a year, she maintains her fascination for this usually jaded man. At the first opportunity, she escapes her gilded prison and travels up river to try to rejoin her family.

Olivia finds refuge in Noah’s simple cabin high above the swamp. Her rescuer is a man of honor. Although clearly attracted to his beautiful guest, he makes no move to take advantage of her helplessness. And then one night, in the throes of a nightmare, Olivia seeks comfort in his arms. When he hears her story, he understands that he must restore her to her family if she is to know any peace of mind, despite his own growing love.

Darcy, still obsessed with the woman who got away, tracks Olivia down and brings danger to both her family and to the man she has grown to love.

This brief plot summary does not begin to capture the richness of Blue Moon. The romance offers an unusual twist. Here we have a virgin hero and an experienced woman, however unwillingly this experience was gained. Olivia can only distrust her own feelings and disparage her own worthiness to love and be loved by a good and honorable man. She has to learn to forgive herself.

Noah has his own demons. He is uncomfortable in the increasingly “civilized” society that is radically changing the world he has known. He has little experience with family and love and wonders if he can offer Olivia the kind of life he feels she deserves. Yet he has no doubt that Olivia is fully and completely worthy of his love.

Landis depicts with great accuracy the harsh life of the settlers who sought to wrest a life out of the wilderness. The Bond family is doubly tried, both by their inexperience and by the gnawing guilt they feel about abandoning Olivia to her captors. Their pain and suffering is only partly alleviated by her return and is threatened once again when Darcy appears to try to reclaim the woman he cannot forget.

Darcy is a most interesting villain. Landis succeeds in making him, if not sympathetic, at least understandable. He is a creature of his time and his upbringing and, at the end, is perhaps not completely irredeemable.

Blue Moon is vintage Landis. Her characters are fully realized and fully human. Both Olivia and Noah have to overcome much to achieve their happy ending but they are such strong and compelling characters that the reader comes to care deeply for them. This is a very, very good book.

--Jean Mason

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