|The Book of True Desires is for armchair adventurers who like a
strong dose of humor and an exotic locale mixed in with the
traditional quest. Krahn captures several elements of the late
Victorian adventure tale (Rider Haggard, anyone?). As is fitting with
this kind of romance, she places a strong and fiercely independent
female lead at the center.
Cordelia O’Keefe believes she has finally found the location of King
Solomon’s mythic mines, but doesn’t have the finances for an
expedition. Despite a long-standing family feud, she approaches her
wealthy and miserly grandfather. He promises to fund her research if
she will first do something for him: travel to Mexico and locate the
Mayan stone carvings known as the Gift of the Jaguar. He also wants
to protect his interests, so he insists his British butler, Hartford
Goodnight, tags along.
So off they go, first to Cuba in the early throes of its revolution
against the Spanish; then to Central American jungles where they meet
with beasts; and finally to a small Mayan village, which has been the
keeper of a sacred secret for centuries. Unfortunately, there are
other contenders for the prize. In addition to dealing with jungle
creatures, pregnant burros and poisonous plants, Cordelia and her
group must also face up to particularly vicious two-legged creeps.
On the way, Cordelia, who has been looking down on the bumbling
butler even as she fights her attraction to him, learns to appreciate
a very different kind of treasure. Goodnight is, in fact, a trained
pharmacologist who is interested in exploring the medicinal value of
jungle plants. He immediately hits it off with the village healer and
becomes a key figure in finding the gift of the jaguar.
I was truly delighted with the reversal of roles, but I imagine there
were significant risks involved. No one wants a weakling for a hero:
consider what would happen if Kathleen Turner did all the rescuing in
Romancing the Stone or if Brendan Fraser, rather than Rachel Weisz, was possessed in The Mummy. Which is why Krahn deserves all the more credit for her careful balancing act.
Despite his absent-mindedness and his preoccupation with folding socks, Goodnight’s size and strength ensures he is no geeky wimp. His growing involvement in protecting members of Cordelia’s expedition as well his scientific savoir-faire more than make up for his original servile status. As he takes on a stronger role, he begins to overshadow Cordelia’s independence and feistiness. They take turns rescuing each other, which ensures that despite the unusual circumstances, they are well matched. A host of minor characters, from Cordelia’s maiden aunt to a lustful crone, from burro managers to a Yankee gun runner, are also delightful.
I do have some quibbles with the last fourth of the book. The romance
loses some of its edge; things fall together a bit too nicely and
too conveniently; and I couldn’t help feeling that the ending was
rushed. I was left with a few questions about the motivations of one
character, whose involvement with the villains isn’t completely
elucidated. The novel also draws a very clear line between the good
and the bad. But that’s romance, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.
Jungle lore, Mayan mythology, enthralling story and entertaining
characters all make The Book of True Desires a highly pleasurable read.