Josie Litton’s latest book stars the descendants of her first series, which I refer to as the Me books (Dream of Me, Believe in Me, and Come Back to Me). This story features a missing relative, a stowaway on a voyage to a mysterious island, and the secret of what really happened to the lost kingdom of Atlantis. I was underwhelmed, for several reasons, not the least of which were a main couple who could be poster children for perfection, and the necessity of stretching my limits of credulity almost to the breaking point.
Lady Joanna Hawkforte has an unusual psychic gift of locating lost items, and people, by visualizing them in her mind. The gift is letting her down just when she needs it most, though: she’s spent months looking for her brother Royce, an intrepid soul who disregarded all warnings and took off for the fabled island of Akora, a mystical place shrouded in legends and secrets. Rumor has it that foreigners caught there are killed on sight. Joanna tries to corner Lord Alex Darcourt, the island’s diplomatic representative to Prinny’s court, but he’ll will have nothing to do with her. Desperate, Joanna stows away on Darcourt’s ship as it sails for home.
Lord Alex grew up on Akora, which is really the mythical island of Atlantis. He’s the son of a British father and an Akoran princess. Being half xenos, or foreign, he knows he’ll never rule the tiny island that is home, but he’s dedicated his life to helping his half-brother Atreus, the current ruler, to protect Akora from the outside world. The Akorans suspect that Britain is preparing to invade the island in an attempt to cement its maritime superiority, and Alex knows that Royce has done some espionage work in the past. He’d also like to find the Englishman, but is dismayed to discover Royce’s sister hiding on his boat. Well, he figures, there’s nothing for it but to take her to his home and pass her off as the mistress he picked up in London; I mean, it’s not as if she could ever be anything else to him. After all, he could only ever marry an Akoran.
As I reflect on this book, the first word that comes to mind is “silly.” It’s silly to think that an island so (relatively) close to Britain and Europe could remain as isolated and closed off as Akora seems to have done, and yet derive enormous wealth from its apparently one-sided trade with the rest of the world. It’s silly to think the place could guard its secrets with great success for as long as it has. For me, the whole setting – Akora as Atlantis – is just plain silly. And there’s a glaring inconsistency between what the reader is told about Akora, and how the characters act there: it’s supposed to be a male-dominated, patriarchal society, where women are so closely “protected” that they’re not allowed out of the house alone, yet Joanna, in the company of Alex’s sister Kassandra, seems to have no difficulty wandering all over the place as the mood strikes her. And don’t get me started on the medieval-Japanese attitude Akoran men display about women “showing respect” for their “protectors.”
Joanna is one of those annoyingly too-beautiful-and-perfect-for-words heroines. In addition to her gift of the sight, she’s also inherited the healing powers of her ancestresses, yet another mark of her wonderfulness: “She was not alone…Other women were with her, sisters of her soul clustering near. They lent her strength with ancient wisdom.” Well, whoop-de-do for her. This mystical connection with the past didn’t make me feel any closer or sympathetic to her. She does exhibit some intelligence, however, which saves her from being TSTL, and she’s tenacious about finding her brother. As for Alex, he’s a prototypical beta hero in alpha’s clothing, another veritable paragon of rippling pectorals and flawless, chiseled handsomeness, all hard muscle and soft heart. Joanna even thinks of him as a “Greek god” at one point. I prefer my men a little more on the mortal side, thank you. To his credit, the guy’s loyal and intelligent, if somewhat baffled about how to handle the unpredictable woman who has come into his life.
My biggest problem with the hero and heroine is the same one I have with lots of historical romances. They seem to be nothing more than modern personalities in Regency – and Akoran – garb; some of their speech is glaringly modern. How many Regencies misses would really say, “I’m here! It’s all right. You’re free, it’s over!”? Perhaps to offset this, the author throws in the occasional “mayhap” or quasi-archaic speech pattern, but it didn’t do much to dispel my skepticism. And for a properly bred young lady, Joanna gives away her virginity a little bit too easily for me. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking for a Jane Austen re-write. But if you’re going to bother to use a specific time and place for a story, the least you can do is try to make the characters sound – and act – as if they belong there.
The plot moves along well enough, and it’s a real relief to discover what really happens to foreigners who wash up on Akora’s shores. I could see the villain a mile off, but I’m not convinced that there was supposed to be all that much suspense surrounding him, so that didn’t bother me. This book has “first in a trilogy” written all over it; there are hints about Alex’s (equally wonderful) half-brother and sister sprinkled throughout, and the ending provides a tidy set-up for the next installment. If you liked Litton’s first set of books, you may enjoy this series too, but based on my objections to Dream Island, I’ll be sailing right past these shores.