Believe in Me

Dream of Me

Dream Island by Josie Litton
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58389-1
Like many readers I had mixed feelings about the first three books written by (or perhaps more correctly “published under the name of”) Josie Litton. There was nothing ambiguous about my reaction to Dream Island though. This story, which moves back and forth between Regency England and the mythical kingdom of Akora, is head and shoulders above the Viking books and one of the most engaging romances I’ve read in some time.

Alex Darcourt can hardly wait to leave England. The son of a British peer who was shipwrecked on Akora and the Akoran princess who fell in love with him, Alex has formal ties to both countries but feels more at home in the “Fortress Kingdom” where he was raised. Akora, a mysterious island country located just inside the entrance to the Mediterranean, has for centuries deliberately isolated itself from the rest of the world. Rumor has it that they kill foreigners who land there uninvited.

In England on a mission for his half-brother, the ruler of Akora, Alex despises the dirt, ignorance, excesses and phony social conventions of London and is anxious to return to the rational civilization of his home. He is uneasy because, for the first time in its history, Akora is faced with serious threats both from without and within.

Lady Joanna Hawkforte would also like to leave London. She’d prefer to return to her family estate, where she and her brother, Royce, have lived happily since their parents’ untimely deaths and where they have studied with fascination every scrap of information they could glean about Akora. Unfortunately, several months ago Royce decided to try to visit Akora and, his return long overdue, there has been no word from him since.

Joanna tries, without success, to talk to Alex about her situation. Desperate to find her beloved brother, she learns that Alex is leaving England and stows away on his ship. Finding her en route, Alex is dismayed by the boldness of English women and disgusted by the ineffectiveness of the English men who can neither teach them better behavior nor control them. Akoran women are modestly behaved and know their place.

Alex cannot return Joanna to England or, because it would put her in danger, simply toss her on the closest spit of land. He must take her to Akora. In order to justify why he has brought a foreigner to the island, she can pose as his mistress.

Thus the scene is set for a lively and entertaining tale of how one man’s preconceived notions about everything concerning women are overturned by an intelligent and independent female. Ms. Litton handles this nicely, and every encounter with Joanna leads Alex another step out of his rather smug complacency to the realization that his ideal woman does not trail meekly behind him awaiting his pleasure but strides beside him as an equal. He is not blindly resistant to this concept, which would be tiresome. Rather, the early discoveries astonish him, and he finds himself becoming less shocked and more pleased with each new revelation.

Joanna changes less actively - she is a likable and determined woman throughout, although it’s nice to see her accept the possibility of a partnership. She occasionally skated close to the less charming side of headstrong, but it is pretty clear that this is primarily because she is more familiar with effete English noblemen than effective Akoran warriors. Once she learns that she can depend on Alex, she allows herself to do so, although never sacrificing her own strengths.

The kingdom of Akora is distinctly rendered, using an effective blend of real ancient history and inventive fantasy to create a little world that I found completely believable - and the European elements took an unusual and unsentimental view of Regency England that was very refreshing. The search for Royce, which complicates Alex’s position in the sensitive Akoran political situation, is both interesting in itself and a lively framework for the developing relationship.

In short, it was cleanly and actively written with an interesting story, a fascinating setting and a charming romance, and I happily devoured every single word.

--Judi McKee

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