by May McGoldrick, historical (2003)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21077-8
May McGoldrick's latest offering Captured Dreams is on one hand an adequate book. On the other hand, it's a book that doesn't evoke any emotion other than a mild disinterest in me. I finished this book out of habit - in between last-minute Christmas shopping and planning for travels abroad for the New Year celebrations, this book would have easily gotten lost in the bustle. It's okay, but it doesn't grab me and insist that I keep reading.
Our late 18th century heroine Portia Edwards lives with the family of a vicar and his wife after they took her in from an orphanage when she was sixteen. Now twenty-four years old, she is determined to discover her roots. Her clues lead her to believe that her mother is Helena, the "mad" daughter of Admiral Middleton. She meets our hero Pierce Pennington, at Middleton's house party one night when she crashes the party, pretending to be a guest, and tries to climb over the railings to talk to Helena. Needless to say, she causes a commotion that requires Pierce to ferret her away before she is caught, and a series of plot contrivances take place to ensure that our hero and our heroine are forced to pretend to be a harlot and her lover in a seedy tavern room.
Pierce is a Scotsman but he is also pro-America in that he moonlights as the infamous Captain MacHeath, smasher of the British blockades and smuggler extraordinaire. Sometimes, while reading books like Captured Dreams where apparently everybody hates England while calling America the land of the truly great and the free, I wonder why America doesn't just make Scotland its fifty-first state and make many Scots people happy. Maybe we can get Quebec and Ireland to become part of the United States of America too. Anyway, back to the story, Pierce is not keen on having Portia around. He has his own ax to grind with Admiral Middleton and having to keep an eye out for Portia's safety will only complicate his plans. But you know how these heroines are: once they have a Plan, they will not stop until they drop - or get deflowered, whichever comes first.
In the spectrum of intelligence in romance heroines, Portia will be somewhere around the midpoint. She's pretty dumb in that her Plans are half-baked and short-sighted. For example, she plans to get Helena and herself to England, but she never actually has a detailed getaway plan. She just wants to get Helena now. Portia manages to avoid getting into disastrous trouble only because she shares her Plans with her guardians as well as the hero and these people hammer out the details she overlooks in her initial Plans. Also, there are always at least one person looking out for her, from kind servants in the Admiral's house when she gets herself hired as her mother's French tutor to, of course, Pierce himself. Because all those pesky details that require deep planning and thinking are taken care by other people, Portia can just sit back and play the familiar Perky In Distress role typical of a conventional romance novel heroine. She doesn't get into too much trouble or do too many stupid things - that's a plus - but that's also because she has many people looking out for her along the way - a minus.
So on the whole, Portia is a heroine of average and unremarkable intelligence. She is also a familiar heroine in that she comes with the typical set of virtues - very good with children, overly sensitive to what other people think of her, and always trying too hard to keep everyone happy with her - that fails to distinguish her from many other heroines populating the genre, unless I consider not that stupid a distinguishing trait. Likewise, Pierce is a familiar and almost nondescript hero - patriotic, courageous, a knight in shining armor. The attraction between him and Portia feels forced because the author has these characters telling me that there is a strong attraction. Yet at the same time, these characters aren't interacting enough to convince me that there is any strong bond developing between them.
The later half of the book moves to Europe and eventually Scotland, where our heroine tries to find out more about her family while Pierce and Helena tag along. Here, there are more opportunities for our lovebirds to interact, but even so, the relationship takes a familiar turn into the rut path. He proposes, she plays the same old song about being not worthy of him, yadda yadda yadda.
So while the plot of Captured Dreams may be a little different from the usual formulaic fare, the characters and the way the author handles their relationship are nonetheless the same old, same old. With very little about it that is engaging, this book is too easily put down and forgotten.
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