Having read Reavis’s new historical The Bride Fair, I was curious about its relationship to the author’s other historicals. I did a little digging and found out that the The Prisoner is a prequel of sorts, so I searched out a copy of the older book, hoping that it would be as good, but not really expecting it to be. After all, this was Reavis’s first historical. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it as good as The Bride Fair, it was even better!
Captain John Howe has been rotting in a Confederate prison for eight months, when he gets the chance to escape. But in the bumbling execution of the escape plan, he does two things he later regrets: he leaves his ailing friend Max behind in the prison, and he takes innocent bystander Amanda Douglas hostage.
Amanda is the town preacher’s daughter, but her relationship with her father is rapidly deteriorating. When John stumbles into her house by mistake, Preacher Douglas wrongly assumes that his daughter has taken to whoring. In his rage he shoots at both of them which makes Amanda decide to take her chances with John even though he is her enemy and her captor. He at least doesn’t seem to want to kill her.
Their flight takes them through the Confederate South and up to Washington D.C. They brave danger and illness, and face betrayal at every step of the journey. And somewhere along the way, they fall in love.
Published in the same year as Laura Kinsale’s masterpiece, Flowers from the Storm, The Prisoner bears a striking resemblance to it both in terms of plotting and characterization. Both books feature a hero who is truly tortured by things he has done, whose emotional distress is intensified by his confinement. Both books have a heroine who saves the hero, a heroine who is unique in both attitude and circumstance in her ability to be of assistance to the hero and to understand the hero’s emotional distress. In both books, the hero desperately needs the heroine for emotional support and is committed to keeping her with him at any cost. Amanda is not a Quaker like Maddie, but the barriers between her and John are equally intimidating. She’s a Reb, the daughter of the town that has caused John endless misery, and socially she’s far inferior to John. By associating herself with him, she becomes a social pariah and her people will have nothing more to do with her. John comes from money, from a very influential Washington family, and they do not react warmly when he introduces Amanda to them. Amanda, though poor, has her pride. She understands the social codes at work, but she is also hurt and insulted by them, nonetheless.
The action of the story is thoroughly unpredictable and never dull. Parts of the book are heavily suspenseful and chock full of action, while other parts are slower and more thoughtful, allowing Reavis time to highlight the social chasm between John and Amanda. Though not as chaotic and thrilling as Danegeld, The Prisoner moved along at quite a clip, twisting and turning in some unexpected directions. And like Danegeld, it left me feeling happy and exhilarated.
The romance between John and Amanda was most moving. His longing and need for her were palpable and extremely well done, though I must admit that I’m a sucker for this type of hero. Though their time together was limited, they connected in such an intense way that their love seemed quite real.
The Prisoner was published ten years ago, but it’s not too hard to find in used bookstores and is available online for cheap. If you enjoyed Flowers from the Storm, like American historicals, or just plain want to read a darn good romance, do yourself a favor and locate a copy of this book. I don’t think you’ll be sorry. As for me, I’ve yet to read something by Reavis that wasn’t good, so I’ll be hunting down the rest of her backlist.