Destiny's Lady by Susan Grace
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6598-1
The plot of Destiny's Lady is old but honorable…twins separated at birth…or, in this case, separated at a little over one year. Nor do I cavil at a story involving a woman as pirate captain, especially when pirating is the family trade and the woman is merely following in her father's and brothers' footsteps. I do object to flat characterizations, illogical plotting, some gratuitous violence, and a writing style that manages to bleed the tension out of the action scenes.

In 1784, Geoffrey Carlisle, Duke of Chatham, is known at Lord Midas for the fortune he has amassed. Besides being fabulously wealthy, his beautiful wife, Evangeline, has just given birth to identical twin daughters. Geoffrey is unaware, however, that his bastard half-brother, Edward Damien, hates him, in part because Edward also loved and wanted to marry Evangeline.

Even though Geoffrey pays Edward a generous salary to run his business, when Edward receives word that Evangeline has had twins, he hires two men to burn down Geoffrey's house so that he will inherit Geoffrey's wealth, demonstrating immediately the kind of plot twist that is baffling. Throughout the 428 pages of Destiny's Lady, Edward moans over and over again that Evangeline was the love of his life. Why, then, does he plot to kill Geoffrey and the twins in a way that also endangers Evangeline? I couldn't figure it out…and this is only one example of an unlikely plot twist.

Fortunately, the thugs Edward hired botch the job. One twin, Catherine, is rescued when the twin's nurse flees the house with her. The elderly nurse dies of exposure but not before entrusting Catherine to an Irish pirate named Sean O'Banyon. Sean takes the baby home and raises her as his own…and a very talented child Catherine turns out to be.

Not only is she adept at reading, writing, Latin, arithmetic, and history, but by the time she is fourteen, she "could outride any man in the parish, could outshoot anyone with a gun, and…no one could match her expertise with a rapier." With all these skills in her repertoire, Sean cannot dissuade her from joining his pirate crew. By the time she is eighteen, she is captaining her own ship.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey, Evangeline, and Victoria, Catherine's twin, all survived the fire when the wind shifted and the house failed to burn completely. Victoria is as improbably talented as her sister. By the time she is four, she is learning to read and work with numbers; before she reaches her teens, she is fluent in four European languages. Most astounding, at age 14 she starts working in her father's investment business, and within two years everyone acknowledges that she has inherited Geoffrey's Midas touch. I can't imagine a sixteen-year-old working full-time in an investment business -- and succeeding -- in 1999, let alone in 1799.

The scene is now set for a complicated plot involving Edward Damien's decision to kidnap and kill Victoria before she can expose his villainies. A twin is kidnapped, the sisters switch roles, a suitor accidentally becomes engaged to the wrong sister…told with a light touch, it could all be great fun. However, two more elements combine with the poor plotting and the improbable characterizations to take the fun out of Destiny's Lady.

Potential readers should be aware that several scenes involve sadism. One scene in particular that includes a whipping and a rape seems to have been inserted in the plot only to enhance Edward's villainy even though his actions had already established that beyond argument. This scene alone may be enough to cause sensitive readers to avoid this book. As for myself, I would have found this scene, and others, more disturbing had the characters seemed like real people rather than cardboard cutouts.

Finally, Destiny's Lady caroms from one action scene to the next but -- within a scene -- seldom manages to maintain any dramatic tension. The author describes what happens in detail but fails to tell the reader how the characters feel about what is happening to them, when it is happening. All these elements -- poor plotting and characterization, sadism, and lack of tension -- are combined in an action-packed, yet strangely flat novel, one I cannot recommend.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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