The Wildest Shore
What a find! The Wildest Shore is really different from anything else I’ve read lately. The pirate is not a handsome, devil-may-care swashbuckler. The ladies’ maid is not bosom friends with her sweet-tempered employer. The tropical island paradise features leeches, headhunters, and bugs the size of your fist. Different is good.
Anne Hazlett is a maid in the employ of Miss Godwyn, a silly young woman who is traveling to India to find a husband. On this voyage, Anne is forced to listen to the constant, insufferable flirtation between Miss Godwyn and Horatio Merivale, an officer in the East India Company. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, the ship is wrecked in a storm, and Miss Godwyn saves herself, leaving Anne to go down with the ship. Anne is saved by Horatio, and soon finds herself castaway on a makeshift raft with him and three scruffy sailors of various nationalities. While they wait for rescue, Anne confides to Horatio that there’s a reason she’s come to the tropics: all her life she’s had recurring, vivid dreams of a tropical island, where she reigns as queen. Horatio not only believes her, but cheerfully volunteers to find a way to find her island realm and take her there.
That’s only the very beginning of the adventures of Anne and Horatio; this novel is absolutely packed with adventure. They are rescued. Their rescuer is a loathsome pirate. They trick the pirate into believing that Anne is a queen who must be treated with respect. They escape from the pirate, stealing his ship. The pirate pursues them. And so on and so on, through thick and thin, until they find Anne’s island, and discover that the fate that has brought them here is not at all what they’d envisioned.
I like adventure, but without good characters it can be kind of empty. Fortunately, this adventure has great characters. Horatio and Anne are not perfect; but their contact with each other makes them better.
In the beginning of the book, Horatio is a lazy, shiftless ne’er-do-well who teases Anne unkindly, overlooking the fact that mere servants have feelings, too. But through shipwreck and disaster, he keeps up a positively heroic façade of slightly-loony optimism, designed to keep Anne from being too worried about their obviously dire straits. It works. It also makes Anne suspect that his wits are scrambled. When Horatio declares his love for Anne, she doesn’t believe him; he’s talked nonsense before.
Anne is a serious and timid young woman of the servant class who dared to dream, but not to seize her dream. Horatio may be insane, but with him she finds the courage to live life to the fullest, discarding the conventions that defined her life in the past. The chemistry between these two is witty and sexually-charged, and leads to some of the more inventive and tasty love scenes I’ve read lately.
Cach’s descriptive writing is brilliant, and I like the way she describes both the good and the bad aspects of her settings. Rather than trying to convince me that life on board ship in the Indian Ocean was one romantic cruise, Cach gives us passages like this one: “The water they had now, while still potable, had taken on a green and disturbing color and drinking it required straining the algae against one’s teeth.” That kind of description made my experience more vivid than if the author had only chosen to describe pleasant conditions.
The result is a book that’s romantic, sexy, and a lot of fun. I enjoyed spending time with these characters; I think you will, too. I’m on my way to find Lisa Cach’s backlist.