One of the main reasons why I continue to be devoted to the Harlequin Historical line is that they aren’t afraid to publish stories set outside of England and the United States. Such is the case with Amanda McCabe’s latest, which starts in 16th century Venice in the prologue, and quickly sets sail for the Caribbean islands back when the Spanish ruled the high seas. This setting is employed for excellent effect, although I wish I could say the romance was as much of a slam dunk.
Bianca Simonetti, like all young girls in dazzling Venice, is horribly infatuated with Balthazar Grattiano. However, she knows her place. While her mother is a well-respected fortune teller, Balthazar’s ruthless father possesses power beyond imagination. Despite their differences in social status, while their parents conduct business, Balthazar and Bianca become friends. He tells her his dreams of traveling beyond Venice, and his fascination with the sea. For her part, Bianca listens to his every word and never belittles his dreams. However, tragedy soon strikes and Bianca’s beloved mother is dead. She blames the Grattiano family for this lose and vows revenge.
Fast forward several years and Bianca is a widow who runs her own tavern in Santo Domingo. It’s a life of hard work, but she owns a business and is making her way in the New World. Then her past comes breezing through the front door in the form of the famed Captain Balthazar Grattiano. In the years since she last saw him, he has become captain of the famed Calypso, a ship surrounded by numerous legends and tall tales. However not everyone is happy to see Balthazar, and he is wounded in a fight. Bianca vows to patch him up, if only to exact her own revenge on the man who ruined her life.
The main issue here is that I never felt the author explored or explained Bianca’s motivations. She supposedly wants revenge against Balthazar, but she didn’t do a good job of convincing this reader. One moment she’s holding a knife to his throat, the next minute they’re tearing each others’ clothes off. One moment she’s angry with him, the next minute she’s acting like a schoolgirl mooning over the cutest boy in class. The “revenge” plot is pretty toothless and lacks any bite whatsoever. Bianca seems like a nice enough girl, one who isn’t afraid of hard work and adventure, but she never seems to have a clear plan – illustrated by the fact that she stows away on the Calypso. When Balthazar demands to know “why,” she can’t really tell him or the reader because she doesn’t know. This makes her come off as flighty and unsure, two qualities that are bothersome in a heroine.
What does work very well in this story is the lush, high seas setting so often absent from today’s historical romances. If you’re a reader who cut your teeth on those adventurous pirate romances of yesteryear, High Seas Stowaway has the same type of feel without the hero being a pirate, or for that matter, a rapist who believes in forceably “seducing” the heroine. Also, it was nice to see characters, both protagonists, secondary characters and villains, who had last names that ended in vowels.
While I never really connected with the heroine, and felt her motivations could have been better explored, I did enjoy this story for it’s lush depiction of the Caribbean and found the love scenes between hero and heroine romantic and sexy. While High Seas Stowaway didn’t knock my socks off, it was a pleasant read that kept me entertained during my holiday travels. Readers hungry for a change of scenery would do well to give this one a look.
Balthazar Grattiano, captain of the infamous ship Calypso and renowned seducer of women, has just walked into the one tavern in all of Hispaniola he should have avoided. For Bianca Simonetti, his sworn enemy, is the owner–and she has vengeance on her mind.
But before she can take her revenge she is captured by this rogue’s kiss. Her only chance for retribution is to stow away on his ship for a passionate adventure that will either kill them–or bring them together once and for all!
Read an excerpt.