Gabrielís Fire by Gloria Pedersen
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4669-5
**
During the War of 1812 between England and the young United States, Gabriel Harrowe is the captain of an American privateer. When he is wounded, he is brought ashore to the Nantucket Island home of Serenity Penn who lives with her younger brother Joshua. The Quaker residents of Nantucket have pledged their complete neutrality to avoid the English blockading the island. By taking in Gabriel, Serenity has jeopardized this.

Initially reluctant to accept responsibility for his care, Serenity soon realizes that she cannot turn Gabriel over to the English. She tells British Lieutenant Evan Lancaster that Gabriel is her fiancť. Obed Ramsdell, the father of Serenityís late fiancť who had been killed aboard a whaling ship several years earlier, warns her that she is endangering the residentsí position, but he tacitly confirms her falsehood.

Gabriel has been impressed by the lovely Quaker until Obed informs him of Serenityís false claim. Scarred physically by a former lover, Gabriel jumps to the conclusion that Serenity has taken advantage of his situation to avoid a lifetime of spinsterhood. (Youíd think that saving the guyís life would entitle her to at least one benefit of the doubt.) Nevertheless, he agrees to marry Serenity in order to substantiate her claim and save the community from retaliation by the English. When Gabrielís ship returns, he leaves the island expecting to never see his unwanted wife again.

Evan Lancaster is attracted to Serenity. Now that she is married he insists she become his mistress. When she resists, Lancaster attacks her. Joshua comes to her defense, striking Lancaster down.

Fearing that Joshua will be charged with Lancasterís murder, they row out to Gabrielís ship and stow away. Serenityís journey has only begun as she and Joshua travel to Washington, D.C., and finally to Gabrielís home in South Carolina. At her journeyís end will she and Gabriel find their way to love and a true marriage?

This sequel to Nighthawkís Embrace (characters from the first book make an appearance, but having read it is not necessary to understanding the plot in this one) suffers from some uneven pacing. The book is divided into three distinct sections -- Nantucket Island, Washington, and South Carolina. The Nantucket section has an abridged feeling to it. Some scenes that have potential for plot and character development seem to end abruptly. In contrast, the Washington section drags as Serenity goes to a lot of parties and gets a new, non-Quakerly wardrobe.

Much in this bookís story line bothered me. Iíve never been crazy about romances that use the Big Misunderstanding or the Bitchy Other Woman to stir up conflict between the hero and heroine. I dislike heroes who are willing to ascribe the worst possible motives to the heroineís actions. And I really hate it when a heretofore intelligent, responsible heroine undergoes a complete personality change and does something incredibly stupid risking life, limb, and the happily ever after. Gabrielís Fire has not one, not two, but all of these.

This plot synopsis only touches on the misunderstandings between Serenity and Gabriel. Itís hard to find a couple with a bigger communication problem -- these people never talk! Even about little things. For example, when the doctor tels Gabriel he canít ďbotherĒ Serenity for six to eight weeks, he moves out of their bedroom. Does he explain why? Not a chance. Does Serenity ask him why heís moved out? No way. And thatís one of their minor misunderstandings.

Youíd think the plot complications caused by countless misunderstandings, Gabrielís vindictive old girlfriend, the villainous English officer (who in todayís terminology is frankly stalking Serenity), Gabrielís unresolved guilt over his brotherís death, and having his younger sister dumped on the newly-weds when his parents take off for Europe would be more than sufficient for one book. Unfortunately thereís more. The final climactic crisis is precipitated by Serenityís doing something so out-of-character, so off-the-wall, so flat-out stupid it absolutely ruined the book for me and prompted me to adjust the bookís rating downward.

The book easily maintained my interest. I usually have difficulty finishing books I give such a low rating, but that was not the case with Gabrielís Fire. I liked the character of Serenity and believe a successful story could have been developed around her, but for a lot a reasons, this one didnít light my fire.

--Lesley Dunlap


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