The plot of The Wildest Shore is that of a quest story and, as in all good quest stories, in the course of their quest the protagonists find more than they are looking for. They find surprising strengths in themselves and in the companions who accompany them on their quest. Oh yes, there are companions…fellow Argonauts, in fact…but rather than looking for Jason’s Golden Fleece, these Argonauts set sail in search of Anne Hazlett’s dream of a tropical island.
In a nice twist on the standard Regency heroine, 20-yeard-old Anne Hazlett is a lady’s maid, not a lady. She and her employer, Miss Pamela Godwyn, have been traveling three months, en route to India by boat. Miss Godwyn’s motive for traveling to India is to find a husband, while Anne senses that the island she dreams of nightly will be reached by traveling east.
As their ship, the Coventry, begins its crossing of the Indian Ocean, a massive tropical storm blows up and the ship is sunk. Miss Godwyn abandons Anne to her fate, but Anne is rescued by Horatio Merivale. Horatio is a 25-year-old Indian Army officer, returning to India after having been wounded in combat and invalided home.
Horatio has been passing the time on the voyage flirting with Miss Godwyn, but not without noticing Miss Godwyn’s “emotional stone” of a maid. Anne, in turn, thinks Horatio is shallow and insincere. When the ship starts to sink, however, Horatio redeems himself by rescuing Anne from her cabin and then by saving her life a second time by tying both Anne and himself to a spar.
Dawn reveals that their spar is entangled with other wreckage from the Coventry. Three of the crew - Ruut, a dour Dutch sailor in his forties; Ulrich, a young Norwegian sailor; and Kai, the Chinese cabin boy - have roped together chests, barrels, sailcloth, and broken timber to make a crude, unwieldy raft. The three sailors grab the rope attaching Anne and Horatio’s spar to the raft and haul the exhausted pair aboard. The Hand of Destiny, Ulrich says, has decided that all five of them shall live. Furthermore, much to Anne’s surprise, her four companions agree that the Hand of Destiny wants them to look for her island.
In the typically picaresque fashion of quest stories, Anne, Horatio, and their companions tumble from one adventure into another. Horatio, with his military background - however ineffectual - becomes the acknowledged leader of the group while Anne finds herself forced out of her timidity and into performing heroic acts she thought herself incapable of.
Horatio also begins to love Anne, not just because he is physically attracted to her, but because he likes the man he becomes around her. Caring for Anne gives purpose to his previously directionless life. Anne does not commit so easily to Horatio. His jocular approach to life unnerves her, and she is all too aware of his reputation as a flirt. She fears that Horatio is only attracted to her because there are no other women around. Anne’s subsequent hesitation about becoming intimate with Horatio rang true, although I did sympathize with poor Horatio’s nearly chronic state of frustration.
Horatio, Anne, and their companions are convincing and attractive characters, and the South Seas setting for their adventures is novel. Ms. Cach even arranges for us to meet Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an actual colonial administrator of the period and well worth knowing. As a result I enjoyed most of The Wildest Shore, but I would have enjoyed it even more had it been briefer. The last 100 pages read as though Ms. Cach was stretching to invent ever wilder adventures to inflict on her little party. I found myself stifling a yawn every time Anne was put in harm’s way. “Oh no! She’s in danger again...rats!” Surely that was not the reaction Ms. Cach was aiming for!
A word about the rating: the R rating is not based on the frequency, or even the intensity, of the sexual encounters, but rather on the explicitness with which they are described. Nothing here is kinky, but I was surprised by some of the detail of the descriptions. This may be a comment on my naïveté, but be warned - your fourteen-year-old daughter may have questions.
--Nancy J. Silberstein