Beyond the Wild Wind
A strong, confident heroine is a good thing – if, that is, she’s intelligent and sensible enough that the choices she makes with such conviction are sound. But there are few things more aggravating than a character who is just as confident and forthright when pursuing actions that are foolish, unthinking, and objectionable. That, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with Sasha Lord’s Beyond the Wild Wind, an overblown melodrama with more than enough flaws as it is. The heroine is fiery and strong-willed. She’s also a moron.
As the story opens, Istabelle O’Bannon has been kidnapped by Horik, a vicious pirate who preys on other ships. Istabelle captains her own ship, The Adventuress, traveling the seas with her men to steal from the rich and protect the poor. More than once she’s stolen Horik’s ill-gotten gains, and he intends to make her pay. The prologue ends with Istabelle bound and helpless and the villainous Horik pulling his “manhood” out of his pants, vowing to make her his. With that oh-so-charming cliffhanger, the author will spend much of the plot teasing the reader with the question of whether or not Istabelle has been raped. Using the possibility of your heroine’s rape as a coy suspense tactic struck me as tasteless, particularly in service to such a cheesy tale as this one.
A short time later Istabelle sends a letter to her cousin Mangan, who she hasn’t seen since they were five years old, asking him to come to her assistance on an unnamed matter. A former soldier, Mangan is cloistered in a monastery, having vowed to lay down his sword for one year. Unable to leave, he asks his old comrade Ruark Haagen to help Istabelle in his stead, giving him a ring that will let her know Mangan sent him.
On his journey, Ruark stops for the night at a house where he beds the owner’s daughter. I suppose the point of the scene is to show he’s so hard of heart that he can only engage in joyless couplings from random women (or that he’s oversexed), but that point could have been made just as easily without a lame, gratuitous sex scene. Shortly thereafter, Ruark stops to bathe in a lake, leaving his belongings on the shore. The next thing he knows, a young woman appears and steals his sword and money, smirking about how “the unwary deserve to lose their belongings.” Of course, this is Istabelle, and right there I started to hate her. I got the sense her behavior was meant to be spunky and fun, as though the reader was supposed to coo over how irrepressible she is to be stealing from helpless strangers just because she can. I could handle her “Robin Hood” type behavior, stealing from the bad guys, but this was just despicable.
Ruark pursues her on horseback, cornering her on the edge of a cliff. Rather than surrender, Istabelle leads her horse right off the cliff and into the lake far below. It didn’t seem possible, but I started to hate her even more. What a stupid decision. I didn’t care if she broke her neck, but putting the poor horse in danger because of her pride was indefensible. Ruark dives into the water to save her, where their hormones kick in and they start pawing each other. Then she notices his ring and assumes he’s her cousin. This begins a tedious misunderstanding that will not be cleared up for a long while, as Ruark avoids telling her time and again. There are some weak reasons given, but the real explanation for Ruark keeping his identity a secret is that the plot requires it.
Istabelle says she needs her “cousin” to help her retrieve something that Horik stole from her. She refuses to explain what that is, again because the plot requires it. She takes him back to her ship where the two of them are soon bickering endlessly and panting after each other. Ruark is overbearing and rough with her, because she makes him lose control like no woman ever has, or some such nonsense. Meanwhile, Istabelle is alternately drawn to him and scared of him, as the author plays up the specter of her possible rape for cheap effect.
The constant bickering and back-and-forth nature of their relationship quickly becomes tedious. In a particularly annoying scene, Ruark, overcome with his untapped lust for Istabelle, stops at a brothel. Istabelle enters the place in search of him and watches as a whore comes on to him. Overcome by jealousy and determined not to let the other woman sleep with him (even though she herself pushed him away the last time they were on the ship), she goes over and attacks the woman. I don’t know which part of this I found more annoying, that she can’t control herself in public or that she would attack the other woman instead of him, as though it’s the whore’s fault he went to her.
But then, Istabelle is simply one of the most abrasive heroines I’ve had the misfortune to encounter in some time. At only nineteen, she’s immature, irrational, and doesn’t seem all that bright. Her behavior is erratic, and she makes poor choices, often acting without thinking, such as when she orders her men to attack a ship despite everyone’s protests that it’s a bad idea. I never got the sense she was a good captain; she seemed merely like a petulant child playing dress-up. There are some glimmers that she was traumatized by what Horik did to her (whatever that may have been), leading to some of her behavior, but she’s too shallowly written to make the feelings seem real or to care about them one bit.
Ruark is only more likable in comparison to her, although his relationship with his brother is one aspect of the plot I did like. Horik is a cartoonish villain who’s often completely over-the-top, so at least he fits in with the rest of this overblown tale. The book does settle down somewhat in the second half. I’m not sure if it really improved or if the annoying first half had sufficiently numbed me to anything else the author could throw at me, but I found it more tolerable. That’s until the end, when Istabelle got stupid again. There’s a particularly egregious moment where Ruark is screaming, “Don’t do this! Use your head. This is not a time to act impulsively and recklessly!” while she does exactly that. No longer possessing the energy to get annoyed, I could only shake my head and sigh. Whatever else there is to say about Istabelle, she’s consistently written.
Lord’s writing is actually smooth for the most part, even if her dialogue is often overripe. Her story also had some potential, with some intriguing plot points and ideas, and it doesn’t lack for energy. But poor execution kills what could have been a decent read. Instead, Beyond the Wild Wind is simply beyond shallow, beyond melodramatic, and beyond cheesy.