by Elizabeth Grayson, historical (2004)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58424-3
Elizabeth Grayson is one of those well-acclaimed authors whose books for one reason or the other I've never actually read. Moon In The Water is my first romance novel by her, and all I can say is: I hope her backlist is better than this tired and stereotypical romance that relies on obtuse characters indulging in misunderstandings to carry the plot. The setting is different and, to me, refreshing, but there's no escaping the fact that the plot of this 19th century Mississippi riverboat romantic adventure story is stale and tedious.
Commodore James Rossiter owns the Gold Star Packets line but all his money and reputation can't solve the problem of his stepdaughter Ann having a child out of wedlock. Or maybe it can - he goes up to his best riverboat pilot Chase Hardesty and offers him the ownership of the riverboat Andromeda if Chase will marry Ann and save the Rossiter name from scandal and shame. It doesn't take long for Chase to realize why the Commodore is making such an offer to him, a mere fellow with no pedigree or money or sterling education, and him encountering Ann's unpleasant stepbrother Boothe only cements his determination: he will marry Ann for the riverboat and, er, for her own good, of course.
Ann is the familiar heroine in that she carries a child as a result of an encounter that now leaves her terrified of physical contact. She is also resentful but unable to shake off her overbearing father's authority over her while cowering in fear from her violent stepbrother. Supposedly highly educated, she nonetheless rejects Chase as a husband at first because she's hell-bent on being a nitwit. Only after she's married to Chase does she realize that she may now have stumbled upon a way to escape both her father and her stepbrother. Will there ever be a heroine who can think despite being besieged by overused baggages and problems? Ann won't be that heroine.
She spends the most of the story cowering from Chase and thinking the worst of him when it's obvious that he's actually a very good man. Likewise, Chase spends a long time assuming that Ann is pining over the father of her child when a smart person - or a character who isn't a plot contrivance - would have put two and two together and realize that Ann's lover may not be the Prince Charming that Chase stubbornly assumes that he is. Factor in the fact that Ann has secrets that she refuses to confide in with Chase and Chase becoming suspicious of the entire Rossiter clan, and this story soon becomes muddled down with tedious misunderstandings, misassumptions, and stubborn refusals to come clean and clear matters up.
I find it hard to warm up to Ann because she's a typical heroine besieged with problems and alas, she's also a dim bulb to boot, and her actions in this story fail to change my initial impression of her. Chase is a more appealing character at first (aren't the heroes always?) because he is a nobody that is doing well for himself via hard work and determination, but his silly insistence on misunderstanding everything about Ann soon makes him come off as particularly obtuse.
The descriptions of the characters' riverboat adventures are enjoyable and vivid even if the crew of Andromeda are stereotypes. But an interesting setting and some well-done scenery cannot mask the fact that the characters and the plot of Moon In The Water are nothing short of tedious.
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