has also reviewed:

The Randolph Legacy
Waltzing in Ragtime

 
Rachel Le Moyne
by Eileen Charbonneau
(Forge, $22.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-86448-5
****
With her third historical, Eileen Charbonneau continues her winning record of memorable stories and strong characterizations. The hero and heroine of this novel, despite their different heritages, are perfectly matched, and definitely get my vote for Couple of the Year. If you haven't discovered this talented author by now, you are missing out on something special.

As a child, Rachel LeMoyne endured the loss of her parents and baby sister during a tragic forced exile from their Choctaw homeland in Mississippi. Fifteen years later she carefully bridges two cultures in her new Oklahoma home the traditional Indian beliefs of her surviving brother and the teachings of the Presbyterian missionaries who raised her. But Rachel's precariously balanced world is about to spin out of control.

The prosperous Choctaw nation has volunteered to send a shipment of corn abroad to help the starving Irish during the famine of 1847. Rachel is asked to accompany the mission because both the Choctaw and the missionaries trust her. When she arrives in Ireland, she is shocked by the treatment the Irish endure at the hands of the British landowners. Trying to find someone who can operate a mill to grind the corn into something edible, she discovers Darragh Ronan, whose entire family has perished gruesomely during the famine. He can fix anything mechanical, but he has used his skills in ways considered treasonous and now lives in hiding. More wraith than human, he is rescued almost against his will by Rachel and smuggled onto the ship as it returns to America.

The Ireland episode, based on a genuine historical event, sets up a brilliant match between Darragh and Rachel. In fact, it's so perfect I wonder why no one has thought of the combination before. Both characters claim heritages that are deeply rooted in the spirit world. Both know what it is like to face prejudice and persecution. As they try to find a life together in America, along with Rachel's brother Atoka, both use their talents for passing themselves off as something other than what they are Rachel as a Frenchwoman and Darragh as an Englishman but they both long to be able to claim their own identities without fear of reprisal. Their relationship changes from respect and protectiveness to love as they recognize their kindred spirits. As with all of Charbonneau's novels, we have the pleasure of watching two strong and honorable characters find love without any dreaded games or misunderstandings.

While the heroines in Charbonneau's previous two novels paled a bit in comparison to the strong heroes, Rachel's quiet capacity to protect, teach, endure and love make her the standout character in this story. As she reclaims her heritage she also regains the confidence that the missionaries have depleted from her. Darragh is an admirable guy whose Irish war cry saves the day more than once, but I found his appeal to be less striking than the author's previous leading men. The older brother/youngest sister dynamics between Rachel and Atoka that illustrate both traditional and changing Indian roles are exquisitely portrayed, and at times threaten to overshadow the romance.

Charbonneau's trademark communication between her main characters and the ghosts of departed loved ones is less evident here than in her two previous historicals. This contributes to more direct but no less effective story. In fact, I found myself wishing there were a little more of the novel than 300 pages. I wouldn't have minded spending 500 or 600 pages with Rachel, Darragh and Atoka. And isn't that what a great read is all about?

By the way, if you're reluctant to spend the big bucks to buy Rachel LeMoyne, put it on your library list and then go buy Eileen Charbonneau's previous 5-heart novel, The Randolph Legacy, which is now available in paperback.

--Susan Scribner


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