When the S.S. Starlight departs Liverpool in the summer of 1856, acknowledged English beauty, Madeleine Cavendish, the Countess of Ballarat, is prepared to enjoy a restful crossing enroute to a new life in the United States. Her fiancť, Desmond Chilton, the Fourth Earl of Enfield awaits her arrival in New Orleans, along with her uncle, Colfax Sumner. Madeleine will reside with her uncle until her wedding the following spring.
Her serenity is shattered with one glance at a strikingly handsome man leaning against the shipís railing.
Armand de Chevalier is returning to his home in New Orleans and is immediately enchanted by the red haired beauty. But Madeleine rebuffs his audacious attempts at intimacy. A brief, unhappy marriage had shown her the folly of being attracted to a handsome rogue, who in the end would cause her pain.
Madeleine has a change of heart when a violent storm sends the ship slowly down and the pair is stranded aboard. Too late to catch one of the few available lifeboats and certain they both will perish, Madeleine gives into their mutual attraction and asks Armand to make love to her.
As soon as they finish making love a small boat arrives and has room for one more passenger. Since Madeleine is the only remaining woman on the sinking liner, Armand forces the captain to take her aboard. Madeleine makes it to New Orleans, mourning the certain death of Armand.
At this point I thought that I knew exactly what would happen. Yes, Armand makes a miraculous reappearance, but nothing beyond that point went as I had expected. The author does a fine job of throwing in lots of twists and turns towards Madeleine and Armandís eventual happy ending.
The city of New Orleans is nearly a character itself in this book, and author Nan Ryan seems to have done her homework. Iíve never been to New Orleans before, so I donít know if all the details are accurate, but the descriptions engaged my senses and made the city come alive.
The actual characters in the book pose the greatest problem. It takes a long time to warm up to the heroine. By the time I did, the book was nearly over. Madeleine starts out as childish and obnoxious. I could picture her pouting and stamping her foot if things didnít go as she planned. Scarlett OíHara flashed into my mind at several occasions while reading. Although Madeline matures at the end of the book, she is as annoying as a mosquito bite most of the time.
Armand is an interesting dichotomy of outrageous rogue and caring hero. We spend little time inside his head and although Iím sure he lusted after Madeleine from the start, Iím not certain when the change in his feelings for her occurred. I was also puzzled why he would tolerate her petulant behavior.
The secondary characters of Lord Enfield and his mistress Dominique, although repugnant, have greater defined layers to their personality than either Madeleine or Armand.
The authorís verbose style of writing, while it might fit with the opulent setting, has the effect of pulling the reader away from the story. I became far more aware of the wordy descriptions, rather than the action itself.
In awarding a rating for this book, Iím torn between three or four hearts. Itís a better than average read. Yet, Iím not completely comfortable recommending it. Other readers may have to decide for themselves.