I often find myself giving a three-heart rating to a book because one part of it is weak. In the case of Elizabeth Turner’s Wild and Sweet, the first third of the book was riddled with problems, so many that, by page 130, even a three-heart rating seemed unlikely.
As the story begins, 19-year-old Gillian Stafford is within one day’s journey of her destination, Mackinac Island, at the upper tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. After compromising herself with a married man, Gillian fled Regency London to join her father, Captain Randolph Stafford, the commander of the British fort on Mackinac Island.
Getting to Mackinac Island from London would have been a long and difficult trip to take in 1814. We are told that Gillian was escorted across Canada by a small contingent of soldiers, but how did she get from London to Canada, apparently alone and unchaproned? Making those sorts of arrangements would show a high degree of resourcefulness in a young woman who had - the text tells us - lead the sheltered life usual for young ladies in the Regency period. I wondered about the mechanics of her trip - never explained - when I should have been anticipating her subsequent adventures.
Rather than appearing unusually self-reliant, the Gillian we meet has decided that her foray into the wilderness was a mistake…a realistic assessment, given that an American attack on Fort Mackinac is expected any moment. When she reaches Fort Mackinac, however, she discovers that her father has gotten the story of Gillian's escapade from her aunt and is furious with her. Gillian's response is to enter into one of those hair-brained schemes that so often endanger young women in romance novels.
The Indian allies of the British are gathering at Fort Mackinac to help defend it. One of the Indians, a brave named Red Dog, notices the brooch Gillian is wearing and offers to guide Gillian back to civilization in exchange for it. Even though Red Dog radiates menace, Gillian ignores the warnings of the man who escorted her on the last leg of her journey - Luc du Pré - and arranges to trade her brooch for a chance to escape Mackinac Island.
Luc du Pré is a voyageur, half French, half Ottawa Indian, supposedly working for the British, gathering information. In fact, however, he is a double agent, reporting to a man named Toad who acts as liaison between Luc and the American forces. Luc witnesses Gillian's bitter reunion with her father and is surprised to find himself sympathizing with Gillian. He fights the attraction he feels for her, knowing that her loyalty is to the British crown. However, Toad urges Luc to further his acquaintance with Gillian - perhaps even seduce her - in order to learn more about the British preparations for the American attack.
Of the two principals, Luc is the more fully realized character. While Gillian's behavior struck me as inconsistent - now sulky, now reckless, then suddenly mature and never entirely convincing - I found Luc's character more believable. Turner has drawn a credible portrait of a mature man trapped between his convictions and his mission and a woman he is rapidly coming to love.
In a nice twist on a romantic convention, Luc really cannot be candid with Gillian and court her honestly. His deceit is not a contrived plot device. If he were honest with her, his role as a spy would be revealed and he would be forced to flee Mackinac Island or face execution.
At the point where Gillian made her foolish decision to flee Fort Mackinac with Red Dog, I was ready to give up on Wild and Sweet. I feared that nothing Turner could do would rescue her work from a two-heart rating. Fortunately, I persevered. Turner’s competent writing style, a different setting, an interesting complication in the plot, and some more believable characterization in the second two-thirds of the book cranked my rating up to a three.
--Nancy J. Silberstein