Desert Isle Keeper
Dashing rogues are a staple of the romance genre. They come in all shapes, sizes, and time periods, appearing frequently as pirates, dukes, or Navy SEALs. In this case our hero, one John Nevinson, appears as a notorious highwayman. His hijinks—as reported in the newspapers—capture the interest of many Englishmen, from the lowliest servant to the King himself, and they make for a very lively story.
Nevinson, known to his friends as Jack, lives a tremendously complicated life. It’s more than the typical double-life of a highwayman, because Jack is actually multiple different highwaymen. His two most well-known personas are that of Swift Nick and Gentleman Jack, the former being a retiree famously pardoned by the King and the latter being a rogue who claims the North Road as his territory and is known for avoiding violence whenever possible.
It’s due to this reputation as a gentleman highwayman that Jack finds himself called upon to run an errand. A certain member of the gentry needs a package delivered to him and believes Jack is the one to do it. Jack hesitantly agrees, only to find out that the “package” is in fact a lovely young woman desperate to escape the greedy cousin who arranged for her kidnapping and delivery. Upon realizing this, Jack sets out to rectify his mistake and spirits the girl away from the very man he handed her to not three hours earlier.
Arabella Hamilton, Lady Saye, is the aforementioned package. Although initially skeptical of Jack and his intentions, by the time the night is through she is…well, if not in love with Jack, then certainly attracted to him. After she is delivered safely to London, Arabella continues to reflect on her adventure with a notorious highwayman, coming to realize that she wants more than the sedate life laid out before her. No, Arabella wants an adventure.
She finds one rather quickly when Jack pays her a visit in town. It seems he could not stop thinking about her. They agree to quietly commence an affair—an astoundingly short one, it seems, as Jack then does not return after only one night with Arabella. Hurt, she takes her maid and begins her adventure, travelling around England in search of sights she’d only ever encountered in books.
Naturally, Jack finds Arabella again and their romance recommences. However, his absences leave the story with an unusual rhythm to it. While Jack is gone, Arabella has time to focus on herself and how she wants to lead her life. Her father died recently, propelling her into his fortune and title (which, incidentally, was why her dastardly cousin wanted to marry her.) With an entirely new set of opportunities suddenly open to her, Arabella comes to discover that she is interested in travelling, in meeting new people, and above all, she finds that she truly enjoys adventures. This character development shapes her into being an ideal match for Jack—she who, initially, seems as different from him as night from day.
Jack, poor man, grew up first with a nasty, violent father who drove his mother into an early grave. Although he was eventually taken in by a pair of kindly innkeepers, Jack’s past marked him. He has trouble admitting to his attraction (and eventually, to his love) for Arabella, but more seriously, he cannot imagine giving up his dangerous nighttime activities, even after he has admitted he loves Arabella and would like a future with her.
I enjoyed this book for so many reasons. For one, it felt very character-driven, in spite of the busy plot. Seeing as I genuinely liked both Jack and Arabella, and adored watching them mature over the course of the book, this was a good thing.
However, what I truly loved about The Highwayman (possibly more than characters) was the historical detail. Small things are mentioned that stuck chords in me—for example, Jack and Arabella are at one point jumping across rooftops in London, when Jack makes a comment that the houses built after the Great Fire are more uniform and easier to maneuver across. It’s a tiny detail, but something I recently noticed myself, in London. This sort of detail is what moved a very well-written book into DIK territory for me. Many authors can—and have—written books about dashing rogues haring off on adventures all around the world. Few can truly bring the setting to life amidst all the action.