For Her Love
No one can accuse Paula Reed of being timid; in her second book, she deals with slavery, sexual abuse, the brutal life on a sugar plantation, and the stigma of mixed race, all set in the Caribbean and Jamaica. But while parts of For Her Love come off like a swashbuckling pirate tale, other parts are like an arranged marriage story, and the whole didn’t hang together well.
Giles Courtney is partner in a shipping company with a fellow reformed privateer, and has just bought his own ship to command. After a decade of taking ships as prizes, Giles is ready to run a more conventional, and less dangerous, business. The company runs a trade route between Jamaica and the New World, and Giles’s first cargo will be a shipment from Edmund Welbourne of Jamaica to New England. Giles agrees to ship the molasses and rum, but not the slaves; he doesn’t believe in slave trading. He arrives at Welbourne Plantation to discover that Welbourne also hopes Giles will be interested in one more thing: his daughter, Grace.
Grace would love to leave Welbourne forever, but thinks her father’s hopes are delusional. Grace’s mother was a mulatto slave, and because she was the ‘whitest’ of his illegitimate children, Edmund brought her into his house and raised her as a legitimate daughter. He had no children with his French wife, Iolanthe, who bitterly resents the gentility lavished on a slave child and does her best to make life miserable for both her husband and Grace. Because of her mixed blood, Grace is sure no white man would knowingly marry her, and yet she can’t help being attracted to Giles. She’s impressed by his refusal to traffic in slaves, and her strongest feeling about him is that he’s nice. When he offers to marry her, mostly because he wants to rescue her from the poisonous atmosphere at Welbourne, she agrees, even though she hardly knows him and they’ve spent only a handful of days together.
Let me just say that Giles is nice. He’s a gentleman, a homebody who wants to settle down and run an orderly, efficient home and business. He does darn near everything in his power to accommodate Grace at every turn, from her wish to nurse a dying slave child to her utter inability to keep things half as neat as he’d like. He’s thoughtful and kind, fearless and daring when necessary, and is the very image of a good beta hero.
However, it’s a good thing Giles is so nice and understanding and patient, because this couple wouldn’t have lasted forty pages if it were up to Grace. Grace is a very prickly character. She has a lot of very significant baggage, and while it’s not the sort to make a reader think, “get over it already,” it does weigh down the story. That was all right as long as the story was about a hasty marriage, a couple getting to know each other and working out their differences. But then the adventure part kicked in, and Grace just wasn’t up to the task. Almost every good character in this story sacrifices for her, but Grace wanders on her way, always presuming on the kindness of friends and strangers to survive. She’s the sort of heroine who will stop in the middle of her own rescue to demand that someone else be rescued, too, or else she won’t go. Really.
There are some plot devices I should mention as well: the Big Secret and the Long Separation. The Secret keeps them emotionally distant for a while, then the Separation takes them geographically apart for even longer. By the end of the book, they’ve been apart more than they’ve been together. The villains are really, really, evil, and while I cheered when Giles did the right thing by one of them, the fate of the other villain only launched a plotline that seemed stuffed in, designed to tie off some loose ends.
I really enjoyed the author’s debut, and I like the hero who will complete the trilogy, Diego; his patron saint keeps dropping English damsels in distress in his path, and he sends off a quick little prayer that someday, it might be a nice Spanish girl he’s to rescue. But this book, aside from the fine hero and exotic setting, was disappointing.