by Colleen Easton, historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7337-2
An unusual setting - Key West, mid-19th century - and vivid descriptive prose make Dangerous Attractions a noteworthy book to browse through at least at the bookstore. Unfortunately, I find the main characters behave very unappealingly. I like the author's use of flashbacks to vary the rhythm of her story, but I can't help but to wonder if she's putting too much importance in what is essentially a kiddie crush thing.
Eli Blaylock, a Conch (white Bahamian), and Genevieve "Genna" Wentworth are two childhood friends back in those carefree kiddie days in Key West. He's the illiterate son of a fisherman while she is the daughter of a prominent and rich family, but despite the differences in their stations, they have fun. But before they ever get the chance to reenact their own Blue Lagoon show though, they are torn apart by Danger and Disaster, with she believing that he is dead and he never forgetting that she left him back there to die. Kids. They tend to overdramatize everything.
Today, they're grown up now. He's taken in by a respectable man who then teaches him to be literate and genteel. He's now one of the best salvage captains around the Key West. She, being a romance heroine, is naturally a loser who is fleeing her life in Boston because she is ruined by her nasty brother-in-law who drugged and then raped her. She flees and just as her ship is about to sink, she realizes that she has never really planned properly where she should run away to. It's a good thing then that Eli's ship comes over to rescue everybody on board before the heroine learns about the importance of a contingency plan the hard way.
So they meet again. So what now?
The story actually jumps from present to past and back again in the early parts of the book. While it is a little disconcerting at first, I start to like the jumps eventually because it's a pretty good way to vary the pace and make what is essentially a miscommunication issue of a story readable. Conflicts in this story are Eli's impending marriage to his mentor's daughter and Genna fleeing Theo, her bro-in-law.
Unfortunately, Genna is a passive heroine who clams up when she should have talked. Eli has control issues: he pretty much coerces Abbie to marry her even when she is reeling at the thought of her father's dying and he acts in several ways throughout this book to suggest that he can be a really nasty control freak on a bad day. Abbie is a more sympathetic character and kudos to the author for making her a likeable character. In fact, it is Abbie who finally speaks out and ends the farce of her engagement to Eli while Eli would prefer to betray her with Genna and then indulge in "honorable guilt" (he has an obligation to his mentor to marry Abby, you know, pffft). Anything to let him put on a show of "honorable guilt" as he feels up the woman he's not going to marry, I guess. If the author has made Abbie the main character and reduce Genna and Eli into secondary characters, this book would have been so much more readable.
What the author succeeds in is to portray vividly the lives of the wreckers (no, "wreckers" is not a reference to Genna and Eli) in Key West during that period. The sense of description is pretty good in that sometimes I think I can even feel and smell the breeze from the sea as I turn the pages. I can't say that I regret reading Dangerous Attractions: it is a book that is refreshing in its different setting and style and it is well-written too. However, with main characters that act like silly kids too often, I can't say I can commend this book whole-heartedly either. It's not bad, but it could and should be better.
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