Into the Wild Wind combines the romance of the great sailing ships of the 19th century, the romance of the California Gold Rush, and the romance of a ship’s captain and a woman who shares his passion for the sea. Indeed, Jane Goodger’s new novel is full of romance.
The prologue introduces the conflict. Hannah Wright learns that Captain James MacRea has become engaged to a lovely New York society belle. She is devastated. She fell in love with the dashing captain en route to California, but sent him away. Realizing her mistake, she tried to beat him back to New York by taking the perilous route through Panama. Yellow fever thwarted her plans and now she must face losing the man she loved.
The relationship between Hannah and James began when she applied for the position of navigator on his clipper ship, Windfire. The daughter of a sea captain who spent her childhood at sea, she is indeed an excellent navigator. She needs to get to California because her fiancé has apparently disappeared into the gold fields. Since she had suggested that he take a position with her uncle in San Francisco, she feels responsible for his welfare. Lacking the money to pay for her passage -- $1000 was a lot of money in 1851 -- she seeks to work her way.
Captain MacRea is a man of great good humor, despite his bluster. He is intrigued by Hannah, but thinks to save face by offering her the position only if her father agrees. To his stunned amazement, Hannah’s father gives his permission for his daughter to sail on the Windfire. James finds himself with a female navigator.
Once the voyage begins, James discovers that Hannah is indeed an excellent navigator. She is also stubborn, sometimes insubordinate, and seemingly reckless. The sparks fly between the two. But James finds himself falling under the spell of this woman whose love of the sea and sailing is as great as his own. Unwillingly, James falls in love.
Hannah, too, is attracted to the handsome captain. But she fights her feelings. In part, this is because of James’ well earned reputation as a lady’s man. In part, her resistance is based on her loyalty to her fiancé, the man who introduced her to the finer things in life. But mostly, her rejection of the captain’s increasingly passionate suit arises from her determination never to marry a sailor. She watched her mother die a little every time her father sailed away, and die indeed when she thought he was lost at sea. Hannah has vowed never to put herself though that kind of pain. She may not love Allen Pritchard, but she likes him and she believes he will never leave her -- if only she can find the man.
Like all the secondary characters in the book, Allen is a fully developed character, with strengths and weaknesses. Bitten by gold fever in a desperate attempt to restore his family fortune, he is a perfect example of those whose dreams of the big strike cause them to lose sight of reality. He proves to be less reliable than Hannah hoped.
James is a gallant hero. When he falls in love, he falls hard. He simply cannot understand why Hannah would throw away their chance for happiness. Hannah is a more complex and sometimes less sympathetic creation. This reader occasionally wanted to shake some sense into her. Yet the reasons for her actions are clear and one can understand her fears of being always left behind.
The romance is set against a beautifully realized depiction of what it was like to sail a clipper ship from New York, through the tropical doldrums, and around the dangerous Cape Horn, and up the Pacific coast. The incredible dangers that this voyage entailed make for exciting reading. Likewise, Goodger paints a telling picture of San Francisco in
the throes of gold fever, as thousands sought to make their fortunes by finding this elusive yellow metal.
Into the Wild Wind is a fine historical romance. Goodger has captured the lure of the sea and of the great ships which challenged the ocean’s power. She has created a larger than life hero and a heroine who is his match in strength and daring. Goodger provides what I most appreciate in the books I read: an entree into past worlds, accurately
but romantically recreated. She has become a “must buy” for me.