Sometimes, when I read a book by an author I normally enjoy, I realize partway through that I am going to have to put together a review that pains me to write. This is exactly what happened to me as I read Captured. I have read several of Beverly Jenkins’ books so I know she is a talented author. Unfortunately, this just isn’t her best book.
The story starts off with promise. After learning what led half-African, half-French Dominic Le Veq to establish a colony, the action changes to the high seas. Clare Sullivan and her mistress, Violet, are returning to Savannah from England. As the educated companion to a lady, Clare’s situation is better than that of many slaves, but the author’s depiction of the petty humiliations to which Violet subjects Clare makes it clear that Clare’s life is far from ideal. Rather than living her own life, Clare must endure life as Violet’s personal maid, while being trotted out on occasion by her mistress as a curiosity of sorts.
Things change for Clare when their ship is taken by Dominic Le Veq and his crew of privateers. After the fighting ends, Dominic lets Violet and the others go, but he takes Clare aboard his ship after learning that she is a slave. Once on board Dominic’s ship, Dominic tells Clare that he is offering her freedom. Contrary to what the back cover blurb of the book says, Dominic treats Clare honorably. Her freedom is not contingent upon her sleeping with Dominic.
This is important because it is his honorable and compassionate treatment of Clare that makes Dominic such an appealing hero. His band of brothers on the ship and his peaceful island world seem somewhat idealized, but it definitely holds some appeal. The book also shines when Dominic and Clare interact. They have chemistry, but they also have intelligence. Rather then engaging in many pages of mental lusting, they have actual conversations and try to get to know one another. In a way, this made me believe in their relationship more readily than I would have otherwise.
Given the speed with which Clare and Dominic find common ground with one another and fall in love, this book could have been very short. However, readers learn early on that Clare cannot simply go away with Dominic and live happily ever after. Clare has two children who have also been sold into slavery at a nearby plantation and she dares not leave her own captivity for fear of never seeing them again. This external conflict drives much of the second half of the book, and the characters’ circumstances really make the reader think about slavery in a way that feels more horribly real than what one would learn from a school textbook.
So, with excellent historical background and a compelling plot, why does Captured garner a less-than-glowing grade? This book has some unfortunate weaknesses to it that rendered it a very slow read for me. While I enjoyed the book in places, I also kept getting bored and setting it down again and again. It took me nearly three weeks to finish.
Part of the problem comes from the info dumps. As a reader, I happen to like lots of dense historical background and I love seeing actual history worked into a story as much as possible, so if something is too infodump-y for me, it has to have some majorly awkward lectures. And that’s exactly what this book contains. I’ve read this author before and noted that she is very knowledgeable on historical matters, knowledge that she often works naturally into her stories. However, in this book, I found a few too many historical lectures, and characters speaking as if they were textbooks in fancy dress.
In addition, there were moments when characters, particularly Clare, spoke in ways that felt very unnatural and that pulled me right out of the story. Sometimes it involved modernisms such as, “I see the blarney runs in the family,” and other times conversations just felt stilted. Though Clare has been educated, she still sounded a little unrealistically technical at times. For instance, in some conversations with Dominic about sex, she referred to it as “having coitus.” This didn’t ring true to me and also totally killed the mood.
Bottom line? Even though this book has some strong parts, there are enough weaknesses undermining it that I simply cannot recommend this one. It’s not Beverly Jenkins’ best work, and readers would be better served to seek out other books of her such as Winds of the Storm.