The Captain's Woman
by Merline Lovelace, historical (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-649-9


Whenever Victoria Parker looked back on the cold, snowy night that plunged her into a wrenching passage from girl to woman, her heart would ache at the absurd arrogance of youth.

That's a nice opening sentence. It makes me keep reading even through some of our heroine's more dubious antics, but in the end, Victoria's biggest problem is her inability to ditch her man Sam Garrett.

What do you call a romance novel where the only thing holding the heroine down is her romance with the hero? "Houston, we have a problem"?

This story is set in 1898. Victoria is a journalist at her father's newspaper the Cheyenne Daily Tribune. She is seventeen, she handles the social sections of the papers, and she is bored. She dreams of marrying the handsome Sam, a former cavalry officer and her best friend Elise's uncle. At a party, she wears a daringly low-cut dress just to capture his attention, and her reward is a kiss that only succeeds in driving Sam away. Sam, after all, has a thing for another woman. He also has a thing for Vicky, but then again, he's a thing, if you know what I mean. A smelly, tooly thing.

Events involving a gun and a rabble gone amok lead to Vicky and Sam's hasty engagement. But it's 1898, and the drums of war are sounding. Sam heads off to play soldier in America's war with Cuba. Vicky, missing her man and tantalized by glamorous images of women following the drum of war, follows after him. There's no "Good bleeding grief" loud enough for my reaction to this turn of events.

Surprisingly, Vicky lasts longer than ten seconds in the battlefields, although she almost turns away and goes home when she catches Sam kissing Mary, who's a volunteer nurse for the US army. Later Vicky will grow up and become one of the many war correspondents around. She will also disengage herself from the useless whiny Sam, but to my dismay, in the end she takes him back.

The Vicky at the end of the book isn't the Vicky at the beginning of the book. There's character growth in Vicky, and I like that. But at the same time, her continuous infatuation on the selfish Sam is frustrating, because this infatuation retards her growth. Sam's a first crush, and he turns out to be a boorish, arrogant, condescending jerk who just cannot see Vicky for the woman she has turned into long after everyone else has. In another book, he will be the jerk who treats our heroine as if she is still a ten-year old kid - a ten-year old kid he happens to be sleeping with, that is.

He and Mary just seem to cannot disentangle themselves from each other that I really want to smack them both. No offense, Mary, I know you mean well, but there are so many bloody men in this war, so get sick and need help somewhere else. And Sam? What an asshole. When he's not waffling over Mary or Vicky, he's stupidly kissing Mary or going beyond the call of duty to insinuate himself into Mary's life, when he has a wife-to-be whom he won't even release from their engagement. Not once in this story does he even apologize for kissing Mary (she needs comforting and he's comforting her, he argues) and his sense of entitlement makes me really want to slice off his useless, non-functional testicles.

A two-paragraphed epiphany towards the end of the book followed by another scene of frustrating entitlement do not cut it with me. Vicky has changed for the better, but she unfortunately doesn't outgrow her lousy first love and move on to a better man. The details of the war and the roles of women in the battlefields and behind the scenes make for some interesting reading, often pushing Sam and Vicky's barely developed romance to the background, but I'm actually glad Sam and Vicky rarely interact in this story.

So what do you call a romance novel where I spend the time wishing the heroine will dump the jerk and move on with life? "A bad book" is too general a term, as The Captain's Woman is enjoyable when it comes to everything but the romance. (In fact, even the title of the book annoys me - it seems to imply that Vicky is a property of that useless tosser. I see red.) Merline Lovelace lets her heroine grow up and then shoots down any maturity Vicky gains by making her marry that jerk, thus negating everything good she has done in Vicky. The Captain's Woman is a big disappointment that way.

Rating: 73


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