Apart from being incredibly annoyed back when I first read Reading the Romance, Janice Radway’s iconic look at romance novels and their readers, I was quite struck by the sheer number of readers who stated that they read romance because of the things they learned. Now, this is not one of the reasons I read romance, though it is certainly a side benefit, and one of the best things about Darlene Marshall’s Smuggler’s Bride. Story and history lessons are almost seamlessly joined – almost. There are a couple of occasions when Marshall slips in to lecturer mode, but I know so little about this era of American history that I never minded.
Smuggler’s Bride is set in territorial Florida, amidst a joint crisis in the shipping and financial worlds. Ships are being hijacked by smugglers, forced to pay tariffs while cheaper goods are being made available illegally. The newly autonomous American economy is also under threat; with no country-wide currency, the country is ripe for counterfeit bills both from enterprising nationals and those foreign threats happy to undermine the newfound independence.
Lady Julia Delarue, headstrong and intelligent, decides to take matters into her own hands when her family’s shipping business is threatened. However, while working undercover at her uncle’s alehouse, she is kidnapped and left at the mercy of Rand Washburn, a smuggler and recluse who is not precisely what he seems.
Through various exciting circumstances, the two end up married to each other. And while they are both seduced by their isolation, situation, and mutual attraction, the secrets they hide, the real life they’ve escaped comes rushing back and threatens the new lives they’ve made, which actually ties in rather nicely with the broader themes of American independence, with the post-revolutionary afterglow fading and the understanding that survival is going to take work.
Smuggler’s Bride is obviously a sequel, though there’s no need to read the first novel about Julia’s parents in order to enjoy this one. There’s one particularly nice scene where Julia’s mother yearns for her old adventures, and tries to fit back into her pirate trousers, much to her husband’s amusement.
The story is full of gentle humour and affection much like the above scene, with a number of secondary characters that play their part well. And while the concept of dual identities is overdone, particularly during the last scenes, it doesn’t really take away from the overall strength of the novel. To slip into some context-appropriate jargon, Smuggler’s Bride is a darned good yarn.