Desert Isle Keeper
McClairen's Isle: The Ravishing One
Connie Brockway provides a strong finish to her trilogy about the children of Ronald Merrick, the despicable Earl of Carr. This final installment centers on Carr’s daughter Fia, who has spent the last few years doing everything she can to escape her father’s influence, but fearing deep in her bones that she can never escape the taint of his depraved blood. For all her efforts, she will always be a Merrick of Wanton’s Blush. Or will she?
Fia thought she’d outsmarted Carr by running off with a rich elderly gentleman, only to learn she’d done it for naught: Carr found old Gregory MacFarlane and corrupted him, leaving Fia in her father’s grasp when her husband died. Now Carr offers her a hard choice. She can cooperate with him, return to London, and be her father’s pawn in his never-ending power-gathering maneuvers, or she can stand by and watch her stepson lose the little that’s left to him. In a last desperate bid to outfox the wily earl, Fia makes him think she’s compliant – but she should know better than to take him at his word. After all, she’s a Merrick, and the family motto might as well be, “Trust no one, least of all your father.”
Thomas Donne knows the Merricks and has good reason to hate them. After the Scottish loss to the English and Carr’s betrayal of Thomas’s family, the boy was sold into indentured servitude in the West Indies. Now he’s back, a successful ship’s captain and merchant, vowing to extract revenge on the man who ruined his family and forced him to hide his true identity. For Thomas is not a Donne; he’s the laird of Clan MacClairen, and he’s come home to reclaim his island for his people, and nothing will stop him, not even the stunning siren he remembers from his visit, years ago, to Wanton’s Blush.
I won’t attempt to offer a synopsis of the plot, since it contains a number of threads, all nicely interwoven. There’s blackmail and abduction and betrayal and double-crossing – and that’s just between Fia and Thomas. And in the background, always hovering over their shoulders, is the shadow of Carr. Fia’s convinced that she’s as bad as her father, yet she struggles to use the dark tools of her personality for a good cause. She’s decided she can never be happy, but is determined to salvage something good for the very few people she’s allowed herself to care about. Thomas resists falling in love with her because, in spite of Fia’s beauty and the occasional hint that she may not be as depraved as she seems, he cannot forget whose child she is.
These are two very strong characters. Fia hides her vulnerability and uncertainty behind a thin, brittle shell that cracks a millimeter at a time under relentless pressure from Thomas. As for him – he’s a hero to die for. He comes to see the good in Fia and slowly realizes that in spite of her father’s best efforts (or worst, depending on how one looks at it) to corrupt her, there’s a core of innocence and purity in her, and it’s this that keeps him coming back long after logic warns him away. Besides, who could resist a man who says to his beloved, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll give it to you, or die trying”?
The other main character is Carr himself, and what a fully drawn villain he is! Brockway does a marvelous job of putting the reader right in his head, so that we understand him and yet loathe him at the same time. He keeps seeing the ghost of his first wife Janet, Fia’s mother, the woman he threw over a cliff to gain control of the McClairen lands, and he accepts these apparitions so matter-of-factly that there’s no doubt he’s going mad. As for the final appearance of the ghost – no, that would be a real spoiler, so I’ll keep silent on it, except to say that while it’s a bit far-fetched, it’s nonetheless satisfying.
Tortured heroes are a favorite among many fans of romance. If you’re in the mood to spend some time with a tormented heroine, a woman with a dubious past and an uncertain future, you might enjoy McClairen’s Isle: The Ravishing One as much as I did. And, while reading the first two installments in the series may add to the experience, it isn’t strictly necessary. Every writer should be able to wrap up a trilogy with this kind of flourish.