I admire the ability of some writers to use a setting to great effect in their stories, to make it almost a third character. This is the second book I’ve read this year whose setting is a natural disaster, and I really got into the story, learning how the characters reacted to the forces nature threw at them on the way to their HEA. Think of it as a romantic version of The Perfect Storm, only with a much happier ending.
Shae Rowan has just broken off her engagement to the son of one of Port Providence’s first families. Her social-climbing father, King, doesn’t take kindly to this, and Shae finds herself compelled to leave home, just as a cataclysmic hurricane is about to hit the fictional Texas Gulf city. The only place Shae knows to go is crawling back to her former fiance Ethan Lowell, who’s still interested in her – only this time not as wife material, but as a potential mistress. Shae’s not really surprised; after all, King always warned her she’d end up like her mother Glennis, who took multiple lovers. One day Glennis just ran away with one of them, never to be heard from again. Or did she? Shae stumbles across a clue that her mother’s departure may not have been as simple as that.
Phillip Payton gave up his dream of practicing medicine when his father commanded him on his deathbed to take over the family’s dockside business. Now he’s being ostracized by Port Providence society, his business is being disrupted, and he’s facing threats of physical mayhem, all because his social conscience has led him to hire black workers. The only one who’s stood beside him is his old friend Ethan Lowell, but when Phillip discovers what Ethan plans for Shae, he’s outraged – and jealous. Although they’ve only met a few times, Phillip can sense a strong and immediate attraction to Shae, and he knows she feels it too. He’s got to protect her: from her father, from Ethan, and from the storm that’s sweeping into town.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and it happens fast. Events unfold at a rapid pace. At first I thought that Shae and Phillip’s relationship was progressing too fast, but extreme conditions bring out the extreme in people, and what rises to the top in Phillip’s character is compassion and sympathy, two attributes Shae sorely needs. What Phillip needs is a reminder of his real life’s calling, and Shae supplies that. Each of them is resourceful, and they make a good team. It’s a matter of believing that these are two people who meet at just the right moment in their lives, and Atlee was able to convince me of that.
This book is a good example of employing multiple points of view without resorting to head-hopping. Shae, Phillip, Ethan, King, Shae’s aunt Alberta, Phillip’s twin sisters, even the poor maid Ethan uses and discards: at various points we’re in all their heads, but the transitions from one to the other are well marked and smooth. Another thing I noted was Atlee’s use of seashore metaphors in the characters’ thoughts, something one would expect from people living on the coast. It added another dimension to her effective use of the setting. I could almost smell the salt water. The mystery of what happened to Shae’s mother is resolved in believable fashion; it’s not something I guessed right away, although I had it figured out by the halfway point of the book.
What disappointed me? At times the action veered close to “The Perils of Pauline,” with poor Shae almost raped, chased by thugs, swept from the second story of a house by the hurricane and out to sea, and nearly shot at the climax of the story. What saved the experience for me was her resourcefulness; she never just resigned herself to her fate but kept on doing her intelligent best to survive from one crisis to the next. Also, Ethan was just a little over the top in his villainy. I could have done without his violent rape of that poor maid.
There’s a sub-plot regarding racial attitudes, and if you’re upset by any use of the “n-word,” even used with historical accuracy, that may put you off; it didn’t bother me, because it was used accurately. Overall, I liked Night Winds, with its story of two people swept into each other’s lives. I hope Gwyneth Atlee’s next book holds just as much excitement.