The Iron Rose
Grade : A

Attention, readers in search of an exciting historical with a lush love story: have I got a book for you! Marsha Canham hits one out of the park with this gender-bending tale of pirates, spies, and love on the high seas.

At the helm of her ship the Iron Rose on what’s supposed to be a short shakedown cruise, Juliet Dante, daughter of the legendary privateers Simon and Isabeau Dante, comes to the rescue of a British ship being pummeled by a much larger Spanish galleon. A combination of skill and surprise allows the Rose to overtake the larger vessel; Juliet’s sharp tongue and sharper ability with a pistol earn her the enmity of one of the defeated Spanish officers, but she’s feeling magnanimous and doesn’t kill him. Unconcerned with the ramifications of letting this jerk live, Juliet is far more distracted by the thrill of victory, the glee of capturing an almost unimaginably wealthy prize – and the presence of a civilian, Varian St. Clare, Duke of Harrow. What’s a dandified English duke doing in the middle of the Caribbean?

What’s a beautiful woman doing commanding a pirate ship? A former captain of the royal guards, Varian is on a secret errand from the king, attempting to ensure the loyalty of Caribbean privateers to the British crown; his main mission is to secure the cooperation of Simon Dante, the widely recognized leader of this disparate group. Varian certainly doesn’t welcome the distraction Juliet’s presence brings, especially not since her father’s cooperation is key to the success of his mission. And if her father knew what Varian was thinking about doing with Juliet, diplomatic relations would definitely suffer.

It would have been easy for Canham just to slap a pair of breeches onto her heroine, shove a brace of pistols into her belt, and have her swagger about muttering “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum,” but she’s created a character more complex than that. Juliet’s the product of a highly competent and competitive family: her parents are legends, her brothers are busy creating their own legacies, and she feels she has a lot to prove, to them and to herself. She has a good sense of humor, and she’s intelligent and direct. If you’re looking for a plot hinging on a Big Misunderstanding, you’re not going to find it here.

A strong woman needs an equally strong man, and Juliet finds one in Varian. She learns early on that he’s not the cream puff he first appears to be, and the more she sees, the more she comes to approve of – and desire – him. Varian’s smart enough to realize early on that while their strengths are different, they’re complementary. His growing feelings for Juliet force him to reexamine the devotion to duty that’s gotten him where he is: does he really want to go back to England, to a life of staid but meaningful work and a safe, predictable existence, or would he rather answer the call to adventure embodied in Juliet? His choices aren’t easy, but it’s great fun watching him make them.

The secondary characters are also well done, in particular Juliet’s brother Gabriel (can you say “sequel”?). There’s just enough background given on her parents to make me want to track down their book, Across a Moonlit Sea, especially as I hear it’s got a terrific, if somewhat improbable, love scene. Speaking of which, I can only think of one word to describe the ones in this book: Yowza. Bring a glass of cold water. The sexual tension starts almost the minute Juliet first encounters Varian, and it continues throughout the book, even after they consummate their relationship.

I like a lot of things about Canham’s writing, but one of her strongest points is this: she’s an author who doesn’t use history as just a backdrop to her stories – she really integrates what’s going on in the era of her settings into the story. She “gets” the “historical” in “historical romance.” For readers looking for a well-researched story with lots of action and adventure, and a dynamic couple who aren’t afraid to ask for what they want, I’m happy to recommend this book.

Reviewed by Nora Armstrong

Grade: A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date: 27/07/03

Publication Date: 2003

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