The Charm School

The Drifter

The Horsemaster's Daughter

Husband for Hire

Irish Magic

The Lightkeeper

Miranda

 
The Hostage by Susan Wiggs
(Mira, $6.50, PG) ISBN 1-55166-592-1
*****
I had always heard that Susan Wiggs was a wonderful writer, but had never had the chance to read one of her books for myself. After finishing The Hostage, I can see that the praise is justified. Wiggs has done the near impossible -- taken two characters that I should have despised and made me care about them.

Deborah Sinclair is just another debutante living in 1871 Chicago when her whole life changes in one fateful night. With the Great Fire of Chicago raging in the background, she leaves her finishing school to see her father. Arthur Sinclair is new money and for the last several years has been trying to buy his way into looking old money. The crowning jewel in his efforts is the engagement of his only daughter to Philip Ascot, an heir to an old money dynasty. Deborah is less than pleased with this betrothal, and is desperately trying to convince her father to break the arrangement.

Even during this heated debate, the father and daughter realize they must flee the city if they hope to survive the raging fire. However, their escape is stalled when a stranger bursts into their home brandishing a gun on Arthur.

Tom Silver traveled all the way from Isle Royale on Lake Superior for revenge. Arthur Sinclairís ambitions and greed ultimately led to the death of seven people, including Tomís foster son. Grief stricken, Tom has vowed to make Sinclair pay for his deeds. But while he initially planned to kill Sinclair, he instead takes Deborah hostage.

Sweeping the girl off to the Isle Royale, Tom switches gears, altering his plan for revenge. Meanwhile, Deborah must come to terms with her fatherís accused crimes and the man who has abducted her. As the two find themselves preparing for winter, they also find themselves drawn together. Can these two seemingly different people and tortured souls find their way to each other?

The Hostage is story is not to be read, but to be savored. Wiggs takes her time setting the scene, describing landscapes in detail and making the Great Fire leap right off the pages. Tom and Deborah are both well drawn, their thoughts and motives adding to the story and ultimately painting a picture of two people who are much more than they seem. While some readers may find this slow going, I devoured every word and description like it was my last meal. Tom and Deborah quickly became much more to me than just a spoiled princess and back woods kidnapper.

Deborah has spent her whole life training to be a useless ornament. A caged bird whose maids do everything for her, from buttoning her shoes to combing her hair. Her job is to look pretty, stay out of the way, and not have opinions. Before she even knows Tom exists, sheís in the middle of an identity crisis. Controlled by her father, her only future is to marry a man who will ultimately hold her under his thumb. Tom actually does her a favor by abducting her.

Tom may be a kidnapper but he is also a haunted and wounded man. The death of his foster son shrouds him in such grief and pain, that he shuts down emotionally. While I certainly donít condone kidnapping, I understood how he came to his decision to abduct Deborah, and while the act itself is odious, his pain is so acute that I immediately sympathized with him.

As an added bonus, history buffs will also enjoy The Hostage for its depiction of the time period. Wiggs does a fine job of recreating 1871, including the differences between old and new money, society marriages, and Pinkerton agents. Her choices in location, from Chicago to Lake Superior, are a welcome breath of fresh air, for a genre that is often drowning in the American West.

The Hostage is the first book in a new trilogy centered around the Great Fire of Chicago. If book one is any indication, the next two installments should easily win Wiggs a new legion of fans. She easily has added me to the ranks.

--Wendy Crutcher


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