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Fairy Tale

Delight by Jillian Hunter
(Pocket, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-02682-8
If you don't have a sense of the ridiculous, you may not find Delight, delightful. There's a fair amount of contrived humor in this tale; then again, I must admit I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Even though I liked the sense of fun in this story, I thought at times the plot was sidetracked by the silliness.

Changing Douglas Montcrieff from a nefarious pirate into a law-abiding earl is easier said than done. A royal decree gives him the title but not the graces of an earl of Scotland. Exchanging his seafaring life of crime for domesticity in the Highlands is difficult for Douglas and it's also difficult for his crew.

Although neither Douglas nor his pirate crew feels up to the challenge of entertaining royalty, they're determined to do their collective best by Princess Rowena of Hartzburg. The sister of the local doctor is trying to help: she tells them that when they are in doubt concerning what to do they should quote Shakespeare.

Also, she's reading to them from the rather risqué memoirs of a Scottish viscount who lived at the court of Louis the Fourteenth – which leads one former pirate to comment that pirating seems very tame in comparison. Douglas knows he and his crew are imposters but he needs Princess Rowena to look upon him with favor. Frankly, he needs her money.

Douglas and his crew lost all their money when their ship, The Delight, wrecked. As the Earl of Dunmoral, Douglas is responsible for the care of his clan and his castle. And, as the ninth Earl of Dunmoral, he's gained an evil enemy; a man who thinks he should be the current Earl of Dunmoral, a brutal villain who enjoys torturing innocents.

Princess Rowena of Hartzburg has her own problems. Her father is under siege by rebels wishing to overtake his throne. Rowena is also in danger of being abducted by her father's enemies – which is why she's agreed to meet her good friend, and Douglas's half-brother, Sir Matthew Delacourt at Castle Dunmoral. But when an injury prevents Sir Matthew from meeting her, Rowena wonders whether or not Douglas might be the ruthless warrior she needs to help her father.

Douglas doesn't miss his brutal pirate alter ego; he wants to change. At first he plans to capture Rowena for her money – and because he thinks his brother wants her – but after spending time with Rowena, he realizes he wants to capture her heart. Douglas doesn't think he can do that by being the Dragon of Darien, Scourge of the Spanish Main. In fact he's sure that if Princess Rowena ever discovers who he really is, she will be horrified and disgusted by his true nature.

I'm a great fan of humor, but not at the expense of the story. Because of the serious themes/problems in Delight, at times, the humor seemed out of place. The sense of fun seemed to contradict rather than enhance the direction/tone of the story line.

Also, I think the plot premise is a bit shaky; you have to be willing to believe that in all his years of pirating Douglas managed to lose his entire fortune when his boat wrecked. Doesn't every self-respecting pirate bury at least some of his treasure?

In addition, Douglas is just too thoughtful to have ever been a legendary ruthless pirate. It's impossible to envision Douglas as anything but a good, decent human being. And his sweet, funny, bumbling crew doesn't do much to enforce his image as "Scourge of the Spanish Main."

Still, I found a lot to like in this tale. An intelligent, thoughtful hero matched with an intelligent, warmhearted princess, surrounded by an assortment of humorous secondary characters is not too difficult to enjoy. And the very nasty villain of this piece makes Douglas, on his worst day as a pirate, seem like a teddy bear.

--Judith Flavell

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