Wild and Sweet
Much of the action of the War of 1812 took place around the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron, where a small fortified island was seized by the British. In 1814, the Americans attempted to take it back. Various Indian tribes sought to better their lot by siding with one or the other of these two powers.
This very dramatic conflict is the setting for Elizabeth Turner’s romance Wild and Sweet. Luc du Pré is a half-Ottawa voyageur who has become a trusted member of the British community at Fort Mackinac, but he is actually a spy for the Americans. Gillian Stafford is the daughter of the fort’s commanding officer, who fled there in disgrace, and longs to return to England.
The exciting historical setting swept me along through this book, and that’s rather impressive, considering how many things the author gets wrong. Although Turner has clearly done her research, she chooses the worst possible ways to convey historical information to the reader. Characters will discourse about recent events like tour guides, or worse, they will stand around telling each other things that they already know. It’s as unnatural as two contemporaries having a conversation like this: “Bill Clinton’s presidency was marked by scandal.” “Yes, but after a highly-contested election, we now have a new president.”
There are continuity problems, as when a character says, “Strange. I haven’t seen a bear on this island in years.” But that very morning this same character had warned Gillian to be careful of bears – why? Then there’s Gillian’s father, who behaves in the most contradictory, illogical, plot-driven way imaginable. The author tries to cover this by saying that he’s an alcoholic, but it just doesn’t work. There’s also too many annoying clichés, as when the hero, who believes the heroine to be sexually experienced until their consummation, says, “Why didn’t you tell me?” And despite the accuracy of Turner’s facts, I have a hard time believing that a well-brought-up Englishwoman of 1814 would say “Shut up, du Pré” to her husband.
Worst of all is Gillian, who could probably have been even more annoying, but it would have been tough. Turner successfully shows how the shallow, immature Gillian grows through the course of this book. The trouble is that she’s so shallow and immature at first that few readers will bother to read enough to see her change. Almost the very first thing she says to Luc, after he rescues her from danger, is, “Take your hands off me this instant, you … savage.” Later she sneers, “I’ve found this wilderness populated with illiterate, ignorant backwoodsman. Be honest – do you know how to read?” She immediately assumes, obviously incorrectly, that he cannot read and condescendingly offers to teach him. I admired Luc’s forbearance in not smacking her. She constantly assumes the worst about him for no reason. I don’t care that she’s battling her attraction to him, she’s a brat.
Luc is a much more interesting character. He hates the British and has vowed to do his best to defeat them, although he knows that the Americans are no more likely to be generous to his people. As he falls in love with Gillian, he is tormented by the knowledge that he is betraying her through his espionage work. His struggle is touching and romantic.
Thankfully, the second half of this book gets so much better. The conflict between the Americans and the British heats up, lending drama and tension to Luc and Gillian’s relationship. By this time Gillian had matured sufficiently that I didn’t want to kill her, and the couple battles a variety of internal and external conflicts. This second half is exciting and has several clever and unexpected twists.
Wild and Sweet has a lot going for it: a stimulating and unusual setting, a tragic hero, and a very entertaining second half. It also has its share of serious problems, which, had I not been reviewing this book, would likely have kept me from completing it. I’ll check out Turner’s next book to see if she lives up to her potential – but I can’t really give this one much of a recommendation.