The Diamond King
by Patricia Potter
(Jove, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-13332-9
***
Intended to be a romantic adventure on the high seas, unfortunately this boat spent too much time sailing in circles.

Alex Leslie survived the battle at Culloden with wounds inside and out. Outside, a slashing facial scar mars the good looks he always took for granted and a damaged leg gives him a bad limp. Inside, he believes himself to be emotionally dead after watching so many friends and loved ones die on the moor and during Cumberland’s murderous rampage after.

In spite of this, he rescues a group of orphaned children and, after much danger and hardship, smuggles them to refugee Scots families living in France. Once they’re off his hands, he becomes a privateer in order to harass and revenge himself on the hated English.

But nothing goes quite as planned. He discovers the two oldest children have stowed away, refusing to be parted from him. Then he and his crew capture an English ship that turns out to have passengers. Even worse, one of them is a despised Campbell, a member of the clan that collaborated with the English against their fellow Scots.

Lady Jeanette Campbell is on her way to Barbados, where her father has arranged her marriage to a widowed plantation owner. Jenna’s life has been a lonely one, “disfigured” as she is by a large, dark birthmark on her hand and arm. Shunned because her birthmark was thought a sign of the Devil, she was not taught the usual social skills and graces. Under her family’s assumption that no man would ever want to marry her, she stayed at home, usually with her nose in a book.

Jenna’s not sure the Barbadian planter will be happy to see her, but figures she can make her way somehow in the New World if they don’t suit.

These two marked souls are drawn to each other - particularly over the needs of the children - in spite of the fact that she’s a traitorous Campbell and he’s a thieving pirate, er, privateer.

This book had a slow start and, although pleasant enough reading, never really got worked up. Technically it was interesting the way Ms. Potter showed the two separate paths of Alex and Jenna as they converged, but it’s extremely difficult to create much excitement in an audience that already knows where you’re going. Ruthless editing in this area, with crucial backstory massaged in later, would have been both more economical and more interesting.

Alex’s personality was difficult to discern because, for most of the book, he wrapped himself in curmudgeonly gloom. I don’t think I was intended to laugh when, suddenly, the purpose of his skullduggery changed from revenge on the British to “his one opportunity to provide security for those he had taken under his care.” Actually, I can think of a couple of ways to support your loved ones that don’t involve buying contraband diamonds from cutthroats in the Brazilian jungle using stolen money.

As far as Jenna goes, I liked the fact that once she knew what she wanted she went after it with gusto, but her transformation got a little out of hand. From a sheltered girl barely able to hold a social conversation she morphed into an Amazon, giving orders to pirates and charging off on rescue missions that apparently only she could think of or execute. It’s great to see characters grow, but this strained credibility.

The writing is friendly and approachable, but lengthy internal monologues often brought momentum to a halt. Seldom offering any new insights, most simply rehashed both characters’ fears and insecurities. Too much of the slight plot is predictable (their relationship is consummated when they must pretend to be married. Gee, never heard that one before) and too much of the language sneaks into the cliché zone, further increasing the sense of familiarity.

So, if your idea of perfect summer reading is a leisurely cruise through well-charted waters, The Diamond King might be just what you need. Those wishing for a fresh breeze and a brisk pace might be disappointed.

--Judi McKee


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