The Captain of All Pleasures
The Captain of All Pleasures is certainly an interesting title. It’s the kind of title belonging on a book you’d read while snacking on bon-bons and tossing that feather boa over your shoulder, but it’s also more distinctive than some of the generic romance titles out there. My verdict: great title. So how is the book? Well, to get the full effect, read it while wearing a power suit like the kind Joan Collins wore in Dynasty, with Dallas re-runs playing on the television. Yep, it’s an 80’s kind of book with larger-than-life characters, a larger-than-life plot, and purple prose that employs every adjective in the English language. All of which means it’s out-dated by almost 20 years.
Derek Sutherland, Earl of Stanhope, is not the kind of man to take care of his estates like a responsible earl should. Nope, he is out on his ship, running a cargo business and living the “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” life, with occasional pauses to tup a tavern wench. Being in trade certainly doesn’t bother him. He has a rivalry going with an American captain, Jason Lassiter; the two plan to compete in the Great Circle Race from London to Sydney (sponsored by Queen Victoria).
Lassiter’s beautiful daughter Nicole grew up on the ship and swaggers around in breeches with her luxurious hair hidden under a cap. She is a brilliant navigator, can curse in many languages, and is perfectly at home with dockrats and prostitutes. Her mother was of the ton and defied her family to marry Lassiter, and Nicole inherited her mother’s “damn convention, I must make my own destiny” outlook on life.
One day at the docks, Nicole is accosted by some wharf rats and knocked about a bit, but is rescued by Derek, who thinks she is a whore. He takes her to his ship, but is overcome by chivalry and only sleeps in the same bed with her. She sneaks off in the morning to find her father in jail, some evil unknown persons determined to keep him there, and the fate of their ship hanging on the outcome of the race.
So who’s gonna captain the ship? If you said anyone else other than Nicole, it’s clear you haven’t been reading romances very long. Pretty soon, she and Derek are chasing each other (on and off ship) amid much action, adventure, betrayal, and lust.
The phrase “larger than life” sums this book up perfectly. Lots of adventure, lots of action, lots of sex. Trouble is, the book doesn’t read like an epic as too much happens off stage. The author has a habit of setting up a Big Situation, then the chapter will end and the next one picks up with the characters reacting to what has happened. Call me literal, but I want to see what’s happened.
As for Derek and Nicole, I can’t say I liked them all that much, although I also can’t say I disliked them. They simply were cardboard characters – he the tortured swashbuckling hero and she the feisty bluestocking. Boy, is Nicole feisty! She bosses the sailors on her father’s ship, she hits Derek in the face several times, and when it is time to consummate their relationship, she ties him up and takes charge of it herself.
While I love a great swashbuckler, The Captain of All Pleasures didn’t bring any pleasure to my life. There’s no “swash” in the characters, if you will. Instead they’re stock figures whose lives never come alive on the page. Added to that a writing style that left too much unseen and, well, I think I hear The Princess Bride calling!