The Adventurer by Jaclyn Redding
(Signet, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0451207408
***
Like Brando, The Adventurer coulda been a contender, but with a slow start and far too much backstory, it settles for being merely acceptable.

Isabella Drayton has always longed for adventure and when a mysterious ancient stone comes into her possession she finds her wish has been granted. She must return the stone to its rightful owner and that brings her around to meeting Calum Mackay, also known as the Adventurer, a notorious raider of British ships. Although she starts out as his captive, it isn’t long before Calum finds himself captivated by Isabella.

The bad thing is, the two characters don’t meet at all for the first third of the book. That’s one hundred pages where the heroine and hero have never so much as set eyes on each other. During this time the reader is told a long story about Calum, and his boyhood quest for the maighdean mhara, the sea maiden who will determine who is the “real Mackay” (and yes, I believe that pun is intentional). The reader is never informed why there should be a question to this fact.

Then we sit through page upon page of Isabella’s musings. She thinks about her trip in Paris, about her childhood. She also thinks a lot about her sister Elizabeth’s adventures and subsequent life, in great detail. Elizabeth was the heroine in Reding’s previous book The Pretender. Once the reader is all caught up on previous heroines, Isabella spends some time meeting Bonnie Prince Charlie and King Louis. Finally, she meets up with the mysterious Comte de Saint Germain who gives Isabella the stone and hence a reason to meet the hero.

But first the reader must take a very long boat ride. Then we have to learn about the backgrounds of some of the secondary characters like M’Cuick, the Scottish cook with the heart of gold, and Calum’s foster father. Also, backstory just wouldn’t be complete without a quick synopsis of the battle of Culloden. When Isabella and Calum do meet, the reader is more relived than excited.

Isabella gets along famously with everyone at Castle Wrath, despite the fact that she is an English noblewoman. In fact M’Cuick, despite losing everything dear to him at the hands of the English, takes to her as if she’s his long lost daughter. Perhaps he’s a more forgiving man than this reader, but their instant bond stretched the boundaries of belief.

It’s not the only plot device that does so either. There is the whole weird incident with Isabella and Calum’s birthday cake. The whole idea of the birthday cake, complete with candles, in Jacobite Scotland that stuck out like a red flag. This is only made worse by Isabella’s over explanation of the whole thing. You could all but see the author behind Isabella whispering “See, it IS possible, see, see?”

The love story between Calum and Isabella is pleasant enough but the damage is done by their protracted meeting. Their stories are put in the reader’s minds as individual tales and they never quite gel together as a smooth romance.

Finally, despite being touted as a matter of grave importance, the issue of the real Mackay is pretty much pushed to the backburner once Isabella gets to Calum. It’s wrapped up in the end by the appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, of a new character, who I suspect will have his own book shortly.

The Adventurer is part of the Highland Heroes series. Although it has promise, it never overcame its beginning.

--Anne Bulin


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