Petals on the River harkens back to an earlier time in romance. It's long, involved, bloody, and purple. Author Woodiwiss has an eye for detail and a flare for capturing human emotion, but she writes like she did 20 years ago. Unfortunately, most of us have since moved on. This would have been a much better book if it had been shorter by about 100 pages, had fewer secondary characters, and didn't feature a heroine who became an utter ninny whenever she was around the hero.
Shemaine O'Hearn is lovely, young and Irish. She has been mistakenly branded a criminal and sent to the colonies as a bondservant. On board ship she makes several enemies - all who swear to kill her (and they all actually try to destroy her in one way or another)!
Shemaine is purchased by handsome, rugged widower Gage Thornton as a nursemaid and tutor for his young son. It isn't long before Mr. Thornton begins to develop feelings for his bondslave. Not long after their marriage, Shemaine's family discovers her whereabouts and arrive in town, with her former betrothed in tow!
The plot is thick and somewhat convoluted. Not only are several people trying to murder Shemaine (all for different reasons!), but it is rumored that Gage murdered his last wife in a fit of rage. And if no one is grinding Gage's character into the muck, someone is trying to goad him into violence. And a warning - this is not for the faint of heart. More people die in this book than in Gone With the Wind - all within the last one hundred pages.
Despite the fact that both hero and heroine are disgustingly perfect, they have a realistic relationship (outside of the fact that he bought her and they routinely maim and kill people for each other). Upon their first meeting, they are attracted to each other, but not with the staggering intensity often found in historical romances. These two paragons come to love each other after they get to know one another. Their attraction continues to grow throughout the course of the book, even after they are married. Never once does their devotion waver, even under the onslaught of jealous women, scorned suitors and malicious rumors.
Gage and Shemaine make love often once they are wed. In fact that urge often takes precedence over the fact that a murderer seems to wait behind every tree in hopes of ending Shemaine's young life! In shades ranging from lavender to indigo, the lovers pledge themselves to each other body and soul. Not only are they blissful in and out of the marriage bed, but so is everyone else! All the likable secondary characters end up happy and content with a mate of their own while the evil characters are dead, redeemed or run out of town.
I haven't read a Woodiwiss book in fifteen years; I loved her classics. But after 540 pages of tears, laughter and murder plots, I am looking forward to reading a book with less than 400 pages, imperfect characters, and a heroine no one but the hero would ever think of strangling.
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