The most difficult aspect of reviewing Phoebe Conn's Wild Legacy was choosing a rating. This book is one of four chronicling the trials and tribulations of a diverse, extended family living in North America from the 1760's through the 1780's. There really is no plot, and the characters are only mildly interesting; yet, it passed my pick-up, put-down test with flying colors. Whenever I had time, I definitely picked up this book, which may mean that a good, three-heart, soap-opera style historical is a good choice for me every once in a while. It may be for some of you, too.
Wild Legacy is set on the Barclays' tobacco plantation, near Williamsburg. Political correctness abounds. Byron Barclay's Seneca brother-in-law, Hunter, is valued for his skills as a woodsman and tolerated when he insists on reverting to his Indian heritage when disaster strikes. Hunter's two sons, Christian and Falcon, grew up side by side with the Barclay children. All are very close friends.
Workers on the plantation are freemen; the Barclays do not tolerate slavery. Conn's book is a microcosm of the colonial population constantly moving in-out-and-about the house. Additionally, family diversity creates interesting talk around the dining room table, where many scenes occur, or at least begin.
The focus of Wild Legacy is the lives and loves of the daughters of Arielle and Byron Barclay, Belle and Dominique. The book opens with a very drunken Falcon, Belle's cousin, sneaking into the house at night. He is greeted by Belle and her pistol. When he tries to ravish her, she is tempted and her virtue is nearly compromised. Belle's virginity and her dignity are saved only by her last-minute request for a declaration of love. A very sobering and chilling request from Falcon's perspective.
This opening scene is too odd to be engaging, but the next day's developments salvaged the book for me. Falcon is pressured to propose marriage; Belle refuses indignantly, a possibility he had never considered. He has no idea how to undo the debacle and plans immediately to head back to the "front," now in South Carolina, a refuge from his confusion. Reading further – sitting around the table with various family members trying to "fix" or understand the situation between Belle and Hunter – I was engaged totally for the next 395 pages. Who needs a plot!
Belle and Dominique decide impulsively to follow Falcon, not necessarily to change his mind but to make themselves useful, envisioning becoming nurses for the wounded. Throughout their youth, Dominique has been the consummate flirt and belle of the ball. This adventure, camping in the woods and nursing wounded enemy soldiers, forces her to face reality and come to terms with her options in life.
Though it seems initially the relationship between Belle and Falcon will occupy center stage, the focus shifts subtly to Dominique. Dominique's trip toward maturity, picking up the pieces and moving on with her life, then finding a mate is a surprising shift in the book's focus.
Phoebe Conn's failure to flesh out these characters more fully is unfortunate. A reading of the earlier books may generate interest through familiarity with the characters' predecessors. The three books I was able to trace are Beloved, Hunter's story, Beloved Legacy, the romance of Arielle and Byron Barclay with historical details about the Acadian Diaspora during the French-and-Indian War, and Forbidden Legacy, the story of Hunter's oldest son, Christian, Falcon's half-brother.
If I ever find and read Beloved, et al, I may have a better understanding of Phoebe Conn's direction in Wild Legacy. As it is, this is an entertaining book without the dimensionality which could make it a sure thing rather than a hit-or-miss for the readers out there.