5 stars

Historical Romance Review: Captive Angel by Deana James

Captive Angel, Deana James, Zebra, 1988, Pino cover art

The frightened, pampered child-woman who had been deserted by her husband ten months ago was gone forever. In her place stood a self-confident, independent creature who would not hesitate to dare the devil.

CAPTIVE ANGEL

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*** Spoiler alert ***

An Unusual Romance

How do I begin to review this amazing, conflicting journey through a woman’s incredible 19th-century life? I have to tell it all, so this review is pure spoilers.

By all rights Captive Angel is the kind of romance I should have tossed into a blazing fire and gleefully cheered, “Burn, book, burn! Bad, bad book!”

Perhaps it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into before I started. Plus, having read a few of Deana James’s books, I knew it couldn’t be that horrible. The cover even had a quote from Johanna Lindsey, stating: “Delightfully different, emotionally involving, and impossible to put down,” which is 100% true.

Captive Angel surpassed my expectations with probably one of the greatest romance heroines ever, paired with one of the most piggish, most oblivious, POS heroes I’ve ever come across in an old-school historical other than Regan Van Der Rhys from Fern Michaels’ Captive Series. Hunter Gillard’s not a Sean Culhane from Stormfire or Duke Domenico from the Silver Devil because he’s not super-obsessed over his woman (until the middle-end). He’s just a selfish prick. It’s all about him. So, on the one hand, we have a heroine whom I’ve placed in my “greatest hall of fame” list, while the hero is relegated to the “jerky pig hall of fame” list reserved for the most porcine of leading men I’ve encountered in Romancelandia.

The Plot

Caroline, or Fancy as she prefers to be called, is incredible in her character transformation. She starts down in the dumps: “Woe is me, I’m depressed, and in mourning for my dead child. I’m fat, and my husband doesn’t love me anymore. Sure, he’ll bang me something fierce, but it’s not just me who’s getting his love, is it?”

Caroline and Hunter Gillard have been married for ten years, with their baby daughter having died a couple of years earlier. They do have a young son, but Caroline’s fallen into a deep depression about her baby’s death, as it seems she cannot have any more children. So naturally, she’s let herself go a bit. She has gained a few (or more than a few pounds) although her lusty husband still doesn’t mind giving her a good porking. But he does hate her crying, her wallowing in self-pity, and oh yeah, her refusal to worship and adore him and treat him like the king he thinks he is.

Hunter has other things on his mind. He’s a seaman by nature and hates being tied to his wife’s plantation, England’s Fancy, and the responsibilities it entails. He hates how mopey Fancy is and often leaves for long instances. She’s no longer the same beautiful woman who caught Hunter’s eye at a ball. She’s dumpy and fat now. Although, as I said, that doesn’t stop Hunter from giving the old girl a bit of loving.

Life for Fancy isn’t great and it’s about to get worse. Her plantation is not producing as it should, and her husband…is a piece of excrement.

Because a horrible truth comes to light:

Hunter has many mistresses, but there is one special young lady he’s currently particularly keen on. And now the unthinkable has occurred. She’s pregnant!

Hunter decides he’s had enough of Fancy. So he takes his young, “virginal” (before Hunter anyway) mistress aboard his ship to travel to Europe. Even worse, he brings along his and Fancy’s son, Alex. As for Caroline, well, kiddo, it’s been fun, but it’s over.

It Gets Worse for Our Heroine

There is more pain to come. Hunter leaves Fancy penniless, their bank accounts emptied.

She has a run-down plantation, and if not for Holy Dulcibella, her servant who raised her from infancy, she would be all alone in the world. Well, there’s also her overseer, a man Fancy should have had a fling with, but she wasn’t thinking of men, just saving her property. So after months of hard, back-breaking work and with the help of her overseer, Caroline does her best to keep her plantation up and running.

And just when it seems her grueling labor will bring a good harvest, a terrible storm wipes out her crop, ruining her.

Does Caroline give up? No. She is determined to make her way somehow.

Told of her grandfather’s secret treasure hidden off the coast of Africa, Caroline decides to travel all away across the world to find it. She gets a ship, captain, and crew who will sail with her and search for the gold.

For the first time in her life, she has nothing and just like Janis Joplin sang (or was it Kris Kristofferson?) “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Fancy is free.

Holy Dulcibella is not a slave but a free servant. She reveals to Fancy that she was the lover of Fancy’s grandfather and a princess of Madagascar who gave up her life to live with her man. This shocks Fancy to her core. It sounds weird, but it was refreshing to see the heroine uncomfortable with this truth. Even though Holy Dulcibella is the only person who’s had her back from day #1 and stuck with her through the worst, Caroline still saw Dulcibella as an “other.” Dulcieblla was “inferior” to her because of her race and station. It made Caroline seem like a real person of her time. Eventually, Caroline does get over it, not seeing Dulcibella as a slave or servant but as family, calling her “grandmother.”

It takes time and their relationship is one of true, selfless love. The deepest, truest relationship Caroline has in this book is not with her husband but with this great woman.

The Creep Hero Returns

In the end, Hunter hears what Caroline is doing: risking her life for a foolish idea of an impossible treasure. So he abandons his mistress and comes to save his wife. Caroline doesn’t need saving. In fact, he’s the one that gets captured, and she must rescue him. In the end, she lets Hunter think he saves her, too, to please his ego. She understands her husband’s nature now.

Hunter has never seen Caroline like this before, so confident. It excites him to see this new woman of adventure. The other woman he summarily dumped before he came to save Caroline. So… Caroline and Hunter reunite for some steamy sex.

And as for the treasure? Why, it was just an old legend, silly!

Hunter’s cast-off mistress gives birth and she leaves her baby with Hunter, to be raised by him and Caroline.

Does Hunter deserve Caroline? No freaking way.

The Conclusion

Be happy that the heroine is happy. She loves her husband and when the book ends he’s on his best behavior. He still will go out to sea once every so often while she raises her son and her husband’s lovechild as her own and tends to their plantation, but he’ll be a good boy. He enjoys plowing Fancy’s fields now a lot more now than he ever did before.

However, Fancy’s no dummy. Once that trust is lost, it can never wholly be regained, no matter how much love exists. Fancy is determined her love will last a lifetime. Nevertheless, she’ll keep some secrets to herself…namely, that the treasure wasn’t a legend. She just hid it from Hunter. Maybe she’ll let him know about it. Maybe not. In the end, Caroline gets it all.

Final Analysis of Captive Angel

Why did I love this book? It is not really a romance, or more correctly, it’s more than just romance. It’s women’s fiction, an action-adventure saga, historical fiction, and a character study, too. You may read it and hate it and I wouldn’t blame anyone for that. This is a romance novel, so one expects certain rules in romance. Here, Deana Jmaes broke the rules. I’m usually a stickler for them, but she turned the tables on me to create a story I was drawn to like a cat to a crinkly toy ball covered in catnip.

Deana James’ Captive Angel was such an emotional, turbulent read with a heroine whose identity was forged in fire. Maybe her love story is not an all-time great. But her life story was.

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