by Beverly Jenkins, historical (2009)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-154779-9
I recall reading once upon a time an interview with Beverly Jenkins where she stated that she would never write a romance featuring characters who are slaves because she couldn't envision a happily ever after for these characters. Well, in Captured, she has found a way to go around that - the heroine Clare Sullivan is a slave, but the hero Dominic LeVeq is a free man, so there is still a possibility of a happily ever after here.
Dominic is the illegitimate son of a French plantation owner and his favorite slave. As a result, he's not exactly welcomed by his half-brother and the wife of his late father. When the story opens, Dominic learns that his half-brother Eduard intends to renege on their late father's promise to free the slaves in their Martinique plantation, so Dominic takes matters into his own hands, arranges a mass exodus of those folks in the plantation before Eduard can reach them, and thus becomes even more of a hated scumbag in his half-brother's eyes.
Later, Dominic commands the surprisingly well-behaved crew of the Marie and they manage to seize a frigate bound for Virginia. This story is set in 1774, when the folks in the colonies and the English are trying to show each other who the boss is, and Dominic is one of the many privateers sailing the seas and making sea voyages most eventful. Acting on impulse after seeing the beauty of a female slave onboard the ship, Dominic pretty much has Clare forced to join him on the Marie. He assumes that a slave like Clare would be thrilled to be snatched from slavery and would welcome a hot and hunky guy like him in her bed, but no.
It's not that Clare is immune to his charms and looks. The thing is, she has two children who are now slaves on a neighboring estate back in Georgia, and she'd rather remain a slave in order to be able to visit her children every Sunday. When Dominic correctly deduces her dilemma, he is determined to help free her two children somehow, which only has her worrying that should his plan fail, she and her children would be separated permanently when she is recaptured and resold to another slave owner. Meanwhile, there are ample people who dislike the idea of Dominic and Clare making beautiful love together and they will try to tear those two apart.
While this is not Roots, Captured manages to drive home the plight of Clare who is in a heartbreaking position of having to choose between freedom and her children. Unsurprisingly, she'd rather be with her children even if she knows that there is a definite chance that they will be separated later on should their owners choose to sell them to someone else. Ms Jenkins actually puts Clare in a pretty good place for a slave, in the sense that Clare, thanks to a bet between her owner and his eccentric sister, is groomed and educated like any genteel Southern lady and therefore she works as a maid to her owner's daughter rather than toiling away at some fields, but there is no sugarcoating here when it comes to the issue of slavery.
Dominic and Clare, like many of Ms Jenkins's characters, are reasonable and likable characters. Dominic is in many ways a stereotypical smooth rogue hero, but he is a gentleman when it comes to Clare. It is the story, not the characters, that drags considerably. This story suffers from the presence of too many one-dimensional villains. Ms Jenkins refrains from making her villains ugly, but she at the same has these villains snarling, sneering, and making grand bombastic speeches that these villains could have had a big "V" stamped on their foreheads the moment they make their appearances in the story. There is no suspense in this story because the villains are not subtle in any way. Meanwhile, Ms Jenkins has the good secondary characters behaving like amazing Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Because the good guys are so amazingly virtuous while the bad guys are cartoon villains, Captured comes off more like a pretty shallow morality tale than a compelling story.
The story has some exciting scenes of ships shooting at each other and brawny men trying to skewer each other with their blades, but because of the stark black and white overtones of the story, I find the story pretty dull and lacking suspense despite the presence of these scenes. Captured is one of the stories where the history present in the story turns out to be far more interesting than the story itself.
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