The Hostage
by Susan Wiggs, historical (2000)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-592-1

Deborah Sinclair is a spoiled, sheltered rich girl who is about to marry a man she doesn't love. She is about to confront her father Arthur when the whole town of Chicago is hit by the Great Fire. And among the confusion in comes Tom Silver like an avenging angel, wanting to put a bullet through Arthur's head. Instead, he ends up taking Deborah hostage.

See, years ago several men working in Arthur's silver mine died in an explosion. Among them is a young boy who was Tom's brother (not biological, but more of a kindred kind). Tom and the surviving members of the victims of the disaster see the accident as a result of greed and negligence on Arthur's part. And Tom, never actually quite a samaritan, loses all focus in his life after Asa's death and now he lives just for revenge.

But of course, among the isolated wilderness of Isle Royale, with the moon and stars above, who knows what will happen, eh?

Now, I love The Hostage, which I feel is the author is back in top form after the dip into Muzaksville with The Horsemaster's Daughter. It is, however, not her best work, although it is a good book. Tom and Deborah's relationship, despite the sleazy captor-captive scenario, always ring true.

Deborah slowly shines under adversity, blossoming into a woman of courage and slowly gaining self-confidence along the way. It is easy to see why Tom would be attracted to a woman like Deborah. She's an intriguing mix of feminine assertiveness with enough but not too much distress factor to get his manliness all hackled up. And Tom is indeed a nice man, lonely and lost, that I'm half-tempted to shove Deborah off the scene and comfort Tom myself.

The Hostage is vintage Wiggs - explosive emotions, slowly unfurling of the relationship which is a friends-first lovers-later sort (my favorite sort, because these sort of relationships are always the most convincing), and great handling of character conflicts that never gets bogged down into a head-banging session in trauma welfare.

But I have one quibble - this book is around 200 pages too short. The premise is such that these two are antagonists in the first half of the book. The relationship between Tom and Deb, therefore, takes awhile to blossom, and by the time they are almost there, the author fits in a rushed ending of bullets and fire, and next thing I know an epilogue is shoved at my face. What is this? Deb is just realizing her full strength and courage. Tom is just slowly letting go of the past, and - zaaaaap! - they're making babies one year later?

I feel so cheated! And I'm not too pleased of the way the author handled Arthur's fate, the man has so much potential for redemption by a nice, spirited widow or something in his own book.

The Hostage is good, but it also offers promises and hints of things to come that are never delivered. In a way, I feel cheated even as I savor the wonderful romance. It sort of ruined my mood.

Rating: 87

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