The Pirate and the Puritan
I had a hard time getting through Cheryl Howe’s The Pirate and the Puritan. It has an interesting pre-Revolutionary setting and a lot of action, but a pair of aggravating protagonists and some historical inaccuracies ruined it for me.
The year is 1721. Felicity Kendall is a 29-year-old spinster who flees to the British West Indies from her Puritan-dominated home in Massachusetts, escaping pressure to marry. She seeks out her father, Ben Kendall, who runs the New England Trading Company in Barbados. She regards her father as a weakling and a fool, and plans to save his business (which she just knows is in trouble) by helping him with the books. She is horrified to discover that her father’s new business partner is an English aristocrat named Lord Christian Andrews, known to his friends as Drew. Felicity just knows Drew is the “wrong sort” before she even meets him: “Whoever Lord Christian might be,” she thinks, “he’d have to go.”
After a few highly-charged meetings with Drew, Felicity sneaks aboard his ship in order to gather evidence against him. Her mission succeeds admirably, as she discovers that he is not an aristocrat, that his real name is Drew Crawford, and that he may have connections to piracy and the slave trade. Unfortunately, Felicity is still on board when Drew’s ship sets sail.
Drew was forced into piracy after he escaped from indentured servitude, and he’s built a reputation as a ruthless and cunning man. But now he’s wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. His life is complicated when he finds the prickly-yet-luscious Felicity in his cabin. Attraction between them runs strong, and before I knew it – just long enough for me to go “Huh?” – Felicity’s decided that Drew is noble and trustworthy, and succumbed to his charms. Wow, that was quick. Just as suddenly, she discovers some more incriminating evidence against him, and decides that he’s a vile, wicked, evil, seducing villain who deserves death.
As you may have gathered from my summary, I didn’t like Felicity at all. Her snap judgments practically gave me whiplash. I think that Howe was trying to write a strong heroine who stands up for herself, but instead created one who leaped to conclusions so quickly – and acts upon them so rashly – that it’s impossible to follow her reasoning, much less like her. Also, I must note that sneaking on board a ship that one knows is about to set sail is not the act of an intelligent person. Drew is a fairly enjoyable scoundrel, until he decides to drown himself in a well of self-pity. He tosses away his relationship with his beloved Felicity because he’s just not good enough for her. “It’s better that she hates me,” he says, after not defending himself from her latest spate of accusations. “Too many people have suffered because of their association with me.” At that point I threw up my hands.
The bottom line is that these are two people who seem determined not even to try communicating. They jump into a love relationship before they’ve worked through all the things they hate about each other; after that they go back and forth between love and hate in a way designed to irritate the reader. Their relationship has so many willful misunderstandings, I imagined them still bickering and fighting long after their supposedly happily-ever-after ending.
This book contains several historical errors. Most of these don’t bother me too much. However, I am bothered when whole historical cultures or eras are misrepresented, and that’s what happens to New England Puritanism in this book. Felicity twice refers to her fear of being burned at the stake by her congregation. Once she says that this punishment could be hers if it is discovered that she’s not a virgin. At another point, she thinks, “Women weren’t supposed to have the base urges Felicity had. Truly, if anyone from the congregation knew of her secret thoughts, a whipping wouldn’t suffice; she’d have been burned at the stake.”
This is just wrong. In the first place, as far as I know, no one was ever burned at the stake by Puritans in the New World for any reason whatsoever. There were executions, but they were for serious crimes like fomenting civil unrest or witchcraft. A woman who had premarital or extramarital sex might well have been whipped and humiliated, but not executed, and certainly not burned. And the idea that women shouldn’t have sexual feelings would never have occurred to a Puritan; they knew perfectly well that both men and women were prey to sexual urges, and thought that the marriage bed was the only place for those urges. In this they agreed with all other contemporary Protestants, and with quite a few modern-day Christians as well. Finally, the author seems to forget that, for all their faults, the Puritans were the way they were because of their intense religious feelings. Felicity doesn’t worry about God. She is concerned about what her congregation will think of her; she never ever thinks of God’s judgment or mercy. I know that romances are written for a secular audience, and most historical characters don’t think about religion much. Nevertheless, it bothered me that not only was Felicity a brat, but she was also a brat who acted without concern for the spiritual consequences of her actions.
It’s nice to see a book set in the Colonial period, and it would have been even nicer if this period had been portrayed accurately. But this book’s greatest problem is its unpleasant characters. Howe’s first book (After the Ashes) got a wonderful review from AAR. Maybe you should try that one, and let this one pass you by.