Catherine and the Pirate
Catherine and the Pirate is the first book I’ve read in Avon’s new True Romance line, a series of smaller historical romances aimed at teens. Since it’s been quite a few years (okay, I admit it, closing rapidly on two decades) since I was a teenager, I rather expected the novel to be too simple to satisfy an adult reader. I’m happy to say I was wrong. Karen Hawkins’ book may have been my first foray into the True Romance line, but it won’t be the last.
When seventeen-year-old Catherine Markham finds a note indicating that her much older brother, Royce, is alive and being held for ransom in Savannah, she is elated, having previously been informed he was dead. Her Uncle Elliott explains Royce is certainly dead, and that someone is trying to collect a fortune from them. But Catherine believes with every fiber of her being that Royce is still alive. Knowing she won’t be able to change her uncle’s mind, she resolves to pay the ransom herself. She dresses as a boy and walks all the way to Boston harbor – a difficult overnight journey – in search of Derrick St. John, a captain she believes will take her to Savannah.
Despite the novel’s title, Derrick St. John is not really a pirate. As a wild, reckless boy, he did man a pirate ship briefly and became a wanted man. Fortunately, his friend Royce Markham, an influential merchant, managed to get him pardoned and offered him a job as ship’s captain. Derrick is fully aware of how much he owes Royce, and when Royce’s sister Catherine comes to him for help he is unable to refuse.
Derrick has always assumed Catherine is a quiet, ladylike girl, mostly because she has a crush on him and hasn’t dared open her mouth in his presence. When he sees her dressed as a boy and fleeing for her life across the docks, he begins to admire her. When she informs him coolly that he will take her with him to Savannah, his admiration grows. Unfortunately, he is fully aware that his social status is beneath hers, and that nothing can come of the feelings he harbors for her.
Despite his early mistakes, Derrick is now a genuinely admirable hero; he is a man of honor and loyalty. He’s also a born leader. Although he is only twenty-one years old, his men like and respect him and are willing to risk any danger at his command, confident that he will do nothing to endanger his crew unnecessarily. And from the moment he meets Catherine, every choice he makes is designed to protect her. He rescues her from the men chasing her across the docks and tries to convince the headstrong Catherine to stay safely in Boston, but when she refuses he reluctantly agrees to take her along, certain she will find another ship and expose herself to danger otherwise.
I liked Catherine slightly less well. Catherine’s only flaw is that she is flawless. She reminded me a bit of Judith McNaught’s heroines – she is sweet, brave, and talented, and everyone loves her within moments of meeting her. The ship’s crew dislikes her presence at first, believing as they do that women are bad luck aboard ship, but she has them eating out of her hand within a day or two. She climbs the rigging (although it must be admitted that she panics and Derrick has to help her get down, which did add a touch of human weakness I could relate to). She understands the relationship between dirt and infection, although the ship’s doctor doesn’t, and she saves a young man’s life by insisting that his wound be wrapped with clean linens rather than filthy ones. All in all, she’s a little too perfect, and a few flaws might have made her character a trifle more likable.
One of the most charming things about Catherine and the Pirate was the sweetness of the love story. Lately there seems to be a slew of romance novels in which the basis of the relationship can be more honestly termed lust than love. Because this is a teen romance, however, Catherine and Derrick don’t spend large blocks of time contemplating each other’s anatomical features. They occasionally think about kissing each other. And they do kiss, once or twice, albeit very chastely. This had the effect of emphasizing the romance, which is, after all, what a romance novel is supposed to be about.
Another thing I liked about this book was the setting. I admit to a particular weakness for early American romances. The setting wasn’t too detailed, as you would expect in a book of this length – for example, the town of Savannah is described in two brief paragraphs – yet the author manages to adequately convey a sense of the era. Hawkins’ research shone, however, in the section of the book where Catherine is on board Derrick’s ship, the Sea Princess. We learn quite a lot about sails and ships, and none of it is intrusive. The battle scene, where we learn all about the size of shot and methods of naval warfare, is equally impressively researched, and quite exciting as well.
On the down side, it wasn’t hard to figure out who the villain was, virtually from the very beginning of the book. This minimized any sense of suspense I might have had. And my biggest problem with the book was the language. The characters talk much like twenty-first century people. This bothered me, particularly when a character says “Hey” in a very modern way. Perhaps the author felt teens would relate better to characters who don’t talk in an archaic way, but for me it undercut the book’s verisimilitude.
One thing that did jump out at me was the length. Obviously Avon assumes younger readers read shorter books. Through the mist of the many intervening years, I seem to recall that when I was a teenager I loved long books – the longer, the better. I admit I was a fairly good reader, but given the current popularity of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which is approximately the thickness and weight of a medical textbook) I don’t think there’s any good reason for a publisher to assume modern kids don’t read longer books. Maybe if the early books are successful, Avon will launch a “supersized” line to go along with them.
If you’re an adult historical romance fan, the length may put you off, and it pretty much goes without saying that if you’re looking for hot, spicy love scenes, or even deep kissing, you’d be advised to steer clear of the True Romance line. But if you’re a tween, teen, or adult, and looking for sweet, innocent romance, Catherine and the Pirate is a fun, exciting, and charming read.