Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical
Book Series: Gillard-Macpherson #1
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT ⚠
The cover of Deana James‘ Captive Angel includes a quote from Johanna Lindsey that states this book is: “Delightfully different, emotionally involving, and impossible to put down.”
That is pure truth.
An Unusual Romance
How do I evaluate this amazing journey through a super-resilient woman’s incredible 19th-century life?
I must tell it all, so this review is pure spoilers.
By all rights, Deana James’ Captive Angel is the kind of romance I should toss into a blazing fire while gleefully cheering: “Burn, book, burn! Bad, bad book!”
Perhaps it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into before I started. Plus, having previously a few of James’ books, I knew Captive Angel couldn’t be that horrible. James was one of the finest authors to have come out of Kensington’s Zebra imprint.
The Set-Up and the Characters
Captive Angel surpassed my expectations. It stars 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 crazed protagonist like Sean Culhane (Stormfire) or Duke Domenico (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.
On one hand, we have a Caroline, who’s in my “Greatest Heroine” hall of fame, while the hero is relegated to the “Jerky Pig” hall of shame. That list is reserved for only the most porcine of Romancelandia’s leading men.
Caroline, or Fancy as she prefers, has a fantastic character arc. She starts down in the dumps: “Woe is me, I’m depressed, 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 only me who’s getting his love!”
You see, Hunter is a real hound dog.
Caroline and Hunter Gillard have been married for ten years. Their baby daughter died some years earlier. They still have a young son, but Caroline’s fallen into a deep depression, as she cannot have any more children.
Naturally, she’s let herself go. Caroline has gained a few (or more) pounds. Even so, her lusty husband doesn’t mind giving her a good porking. Hunter does hate her crying, how she wallows in self-pity, and oh, her refusal to worship him and treat him like the king he is.
So Hunter has other things on his mind. He’s a seaman by nature and despises being tied to his wife’s plantation, “England’s Fancy” with the responsibilities it entails. He loathes how mopey Fancy is. Often he leaves for long instances.
Caroline’s no longer the same beautiful woman who caught Hunter’s eye at a ball. She’s dumpy and fat now, even if that doesn’t stop Hunter from plowing her furrows every so often.
Life for Fancy isn’t great and it’s about to get worse.
Her plantation is not producing as it should, despite her husband providing fertilizer, as he’s nothing but excrement.
For a horrible truth comes to light. Hunter has many lovers, including one young miss he’s especially keen on. Worse yet, the mistress is pregnant!
Hunter resolves he’s had enough of Fancy. He decides to sail to Europe with his no-longer-a-virgin of a paramour. Even crueler, he takes his and Fancy’s son, Alex, with them.
As for Caroline? Well, kiddo, it’s been fun, but see ya!
It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
One final blow is to come. Hunter leaves Fancy penniless, their bank accounts wiped empty. All that Fancy has is her run-down plantation.
If not for Holy Dulcibella, the servant who raised her from infancy, Caroline would be alone in the world.
There is also her plantation’s overseer, to help. Fancy should have had a fling with him. But she had no mind for men, just for “England’s Fancy.” With her overseer & Dulcibella, Caroline engages in back-breaking labor to keep her plantation up and running.
At long last, when it seems Caroline’s hard work will bring a good harvest, a terrible storm comes. It wipes out the crops, utterly ruining her.
Caroline can fall no lower. Does give up? No! She is determined to make her way, somehow.
For the first time in Caroline’s life, she has nothing. Like Janis Joplin sang (or was it Kris Kristofferson?) “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Fancy is free.
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, independet creature who would not hesitate to dare the devil.
A Light in The Darkness
Certain revelations come to light. Holy Dulcibella is not a slave but a free servant. She discloses to Fancy that she was Fancy’s grandfather’s lover and secret wife.
He was a ship captain who sailed the seas like Hunter. Dulcibella was a princess of Madagascar. They fell in love even though he had a wife and family in America. Dulcibella willingly gave up her royal life to live with her man as a second-best.
This shocks Fancy to her core.
It was refreshing that Deana James wrote Captive Angel with a sense of historical authenticity. It sounds odd, but I appreciated that Fancy Caroline was uncomfortable knowing this truth. Her prejudices made her real, not some manufactured idea of perfection.
Even though Holy Dulcibella was the only person who had Caroline’s back from day #1, who’d stuck with her through the worst, Caroline still saw Dulcibella as an “other.” Dulcieblla was “inferior” because of her race and station. Caroline was a real person of her time, filled with preconceptions.
Over time Caroline does get over it. Through their shared travails she sees Dulcibella not as a slave or servant but as family, calling her “grandmother.”
It takes time to unfold. Their relationship is one of genuine, selfless love. The most honest connection Caroline has with a person is not with her wayward husband, but with this great friend.
The Creep “Hero” Returns
Dulibella tells her about her grandfather’s secret treasure hidden off the coast of Africa. Caroline determines to find it.
She obtains a ship, captain, and crew who will sail with her across the world in search of the gold.
Ultimately, Hunter hears that Caroline is risking her life for a foolish idea of an impossible treasure. Without a care for her, he abandons his pregnant mistress to save his wife.
But Caroline doesn’t need saving! In fact, Hunter’s the one who gets captured, and she must rescue him. In the end, she lets Hunter think he saves her, to please his ego. She understands her husband’s nature now.
Hunter has never seen Caroline like this before, so confident in herself. It excites him to see this new woman of adventure. With the other woman long out of his mind, he attempts to seduce his wife.
As Caroline never stopped desiring Hunter, she engages with him eagerly. The makeup sex is steamier than ever before. The two reunite, promising to love one another forever.
The Thrilling Conclusion
And as for the treasure? Why it was lost in the seas, never to be found!
Hunter’s cast-off mistress gives birth. She goes away and leaves her baby with Hunter, to be raised by him and Caroline.
Does Hunter deserve Caroline? No freaking way!
Be happy that the heroine is happy. She loves her husband. When the book ends Hunter promises to be on his best behavior. He still will go out to sea once every so often while Caroline raises her son and her husband’s lovechild as their own.
She will remain home and tend to their plantation. Hunter will be a good boy from here on out. 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 and it wasn’t lost. Caroline sneakily 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 Captive Angel? 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 James broke the rules. Despite me being a stickler for them, James turned the tables to create a story I loved. I was drawn to it like a cat to a crinkly toy ball covered in catnip.
Deana James’ Captive Angel was 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.
|Rating Report Card|
SHE SWORE TO STAY WED
Abandoned, penniless, and suddenly responsible for the biggest tobacco plantation in Colleton County, distraught Caroline Gillard had no time to dissolve into tears. The previously pampered, indulged mistress of the South Carolina estate had to learn fast how to manage her workers, her money — and her broken heart. By day the willowy redhead labored to exhaustion beside her slaves … but each night left her restless with longing for her wayward mate. Soon, though, her misery gave way to anger, and the determined woman knew that somehow she’d make him regret his betrayal until he begged her to take him back!
HE VOWED TO BE FREECAPTIVE ANGEL by DEANA JAMES
Handsome Hunter Gillard had been born to ride the everchanging sea, not to harvest and plant year in and year out. Tired of his commitments, the virile, hot-tempered captain meant to call his destiny his own like he had before he’d met his tantalizing Caroline. When his adventure was over, maybe he’d return to his patient, understanding wife. But when he learned she’d left him for parts unknown, the furious philanderer promised he’d track her down to teach her how to be Hunter’s loyal partner, his unquestioning concubine, his forgiving… Captive Angel.