has also reviewed:

Autumn Rose

Winter Rose

 
Border Rose by Linda Windsor
(Zebra, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-5945-0
**
Border Rose is the last book of Linda Windsor's Border trilogy, which also includes Autumn Rose and Winter Rose. I didn't read the first book, but I picked up enough of its plot from Winter Rose to understand that the theme of the trilogy is "Love Thine Enemy." The three stories are set during different wars involving America and Canada the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, respectively, and each book features a hero and heroine on opposing sides of the conflict.

War always makes for interesting romantic conflict, and in both Winter Rose and Border Rose, it was quite refreshing to take a break from the tried-and-true American Civil War theme. But while I enjoyed Winter Rose, with its likeable characters and strong external and internal conflicts, I found Border Rose to be, overall, much less compelling.

Windsor does know how to craft characters, and Border Rose is no exception. The heroine is Rose Beaujeu, granddaughter of the hero of Autumn Rose, and niece of the heroine of Winter Rose. Rose is also the daughter of a retired sea captain, and she's spent her life around ships and shipyards. She loves nothing so much as the open sea, and she longs for the freedom that men enjoy to captain her own ship and control her own destiny.

After an obligatory stint in a ladies' finishing school (Rose's family objects to her salty language and tomboy ways) she is rewarded by her father with a ship of her own, the Border Rose. But when the War of 1812 turns the eastern seaboard into a military hotspot, Rose is forced to pull in her oars for a while. But not before one last sea journey from the finishing school to her home in Maine.

And it's on that journey that the trouble begins. Rose unexpectedly encounters an old family friend, one Dillon Mackay. This would be good news, except that Dillon is no longer the teenaged ship's apprentice he was when Rose knew him. Now he's a captain in his own right, and more a privateer captain. This, for those of you might not know (like me), means that he makes his living taking over other people's ships and their cargo. There's some kind of difference between a privateer and a pirate, but I'm not the one to explain that to you. Suffice it to say, Dillon is definitely more respectable than a pirate.

Not that this matters to Rose. All she cares about is that he's taken over her ship, her beloved Border Rose. Dillon isn't thrilled about this either, but his crew put up a hard fight for the ship (before Dillon knew it was Rose's), and he can't cheat them of their share of the prize. And so begins the conflict between these two.

The story takes some unpredictable turns from there, most notably including a semi-forced marriage between Dillon and Rose. The main of the book involves the two of them working through their various grudges, misunderstandings, hurts, and prejudices to find love.

There's a subplot, too, but I'm not going to explain much about that because I just never quite understood it. Apparently, some rogue privateers have been taking over ships and claiming them as their own. Why this is different from what Dillon does pretty much escapes me. It must have something to do with the fact that these pirates don't take the ships they capture to land and claim them legally in what's called a "prize court." It seems like a subtle difference, but trust me it's bad. Very, very bad.

Believe me, I feel like an idiot for writing that last paragraph. I'll openly admit it I'm ignorant about the War of 1812 and about the practices of shipboard privateers. I'm sure some knowledge of these subjects would have helped me make sense of the subplot in Border Rose, but I wasn't aware when I started reading it that I'd need a history course to understand it.

This was a big weakness in the book, for me, but I'm reluctant to cast the blame on Windsor, because maybe it is my fault. Maybe the majority of readers would grasp this privateering plot better than I did. All I can say is that perhaps you should take stock of your knowledge of these things before you attempt reading the book.

In any case, I was more concerned about problems in the relationship between Dillon and Rose. Frankly, I just didn't feel that either of them was emotionally invested enough in his or her side of the war to make them truly enemies. They're old family friends, for goodness sake how much enmity could be between them? True, Rose gets ticked at Dillon for taking her ship, but that conflict is only the beginning of their problems. Again and again, the two find themselves opponents, then allies, then opponents again, for what seems to be precious little reason given their history of friendship.

Windsor's writing style was troublesome for me, as well. There's a rather stiff, over-polished feel to the narrative, and some of the sentences were so convoluted that I had to go back and re-read them to make sure I caught their meaning. All of this, of course, speaks to careful word choice and painstaking rewriting, but instead of coming off as natural and flowing, it feels forced and strained. This is especially apparent during love scenes, which contain a strange brand of wooden eroticism, as in passages like:

She felt the rumble of his voice generated from his chest with her breasts, which had reached an acute degree of sensitivity, enough to pummel her brain with cravings for more than this stirring crush.

Not exactly the kind of thing that starts my blood a-bubbling. Add to that, the love scenes contain some of the most strained euphemisms for "penis" I've ever read, i.e. "Dillon's admission of desire," "the meat of his confession," and "that which made him man."

There are some bright spots in this book, and one of them is the characters themselves. Even though I didn't always understand them, I liked them. That seems like a simple thing, but it made a big difference in my total experience of reading the book. The secondary characters are well-crafted, too, particularly the children, Dillon's niece and nephew. And in contrast to the narrative, the dialogue feels very natural and true. Some of the most entertaining portions of the book, in fact, involve verbal battles between Dillon and Rose.

But on the whole, I felt that the book had too many problems to make it an enjoyable read. The confusing subplot, combined with the weak and shifting conflict between Dillon and Rose not to mention a bit of a surplus of "ship lingo," which might as well have been gibberish to me kept me distracted and nonplussed throughout the book. So if you like books about ships, this one might float your boat. Otherwise, you might just want to let it sail past unhindered.

-- Ellen Hestand


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