Anne Hazlett is a mere lady's maid, but she has hopes of eventually living a better life. For quite some time, she has been having a recurring dream in which she is the queen of an exotic island that she believes may be somewhere in the West Indies. Hoping to someday find the island of her fantasies, Anne boards a ship with her mistress who is bound for India. When a ferocious storm leaves the ship foundering off the coast of Madagascar, it seems that all may be lost including her life.
Horatio Marivale is a devilish flirt who loves to tease the ladies. After recovering from a gunshot wound, Horatio is headed back to his army post in India, but he isn't too happy about it. He feels like an utter failure, and would rather do something adventurous like sail the high seas as the captain of his own ship, establishing new trade routes. When the ship he is traveling on is lost to the storm, he is barely able to save himself and Anne from the wreckage in time. That she looks at him like he is a hero makes Horatio feel better about himself than he has in a long time.
Horatio and Anne spend several days adrift on flotsam in the middle of the Indian Ocean, along with three oddly mismatched companions from their ship. Anne tells them all of her dreams, and they agree that when they are rescued, they will go in search of her island. When sails are finally spotted on the horizon, little do Horatio and Anne know that they are about to embark on an adventure filled with pirates, headhunters, wild jungle creatures and one mischievous monkey all to fulfill their destiny and discover a love to last a lifetime.
The Wildest Shore is definitely not your average, run-of-the-mill, historical romance novel. Although it takes place during the Regency era, there is nary a ball or house party to be found, because the entire book is set either in the middle of the Indian Ocean or on one of the tropical islands in that part of the world. It gets off to an exciting start with the hero and heroine being shipwrecked, along with a handful of motley crew members in the very first chapter. The couple are from opposite sides of the track with Horatio being a British military officer stationed in India who is from a wealthy family, and Anne being a mere lady's maid who had been attending to her mistress on board the ship before it foundered. The story also contains a hint of the paranormal in the form of a recurring dream that Anne had about becoming the queen of an exotic island. This dream was the catalyst which made her choose to travel with her employer to India. Once she is stranded, she begins to have visions of a red kingfisher that seems to be leading her to her destiny, which does end up being a bit of mythological fantasy combined with a pseudo-Cinderella story. There are many things that occur in the narrative that are lighthearted and obviously not meant to be taken too seriously. All-in-all it made for a very unusual and different sort of read.
Horatio is quite possibly the most cheerful hero I've ever encountered in my romance reading. He has a blithe, devil-may-care attitude about nearly everything, including almost drowning in a shipwreck and being stuck in the middle of the ocean miles from land. I liked that he had a good sense of humor and was able to lighten Anne's mood, but sometimes he was almost a little too cavalier for my taste. Horatio also has a habit of spinning tall tales about their sea adventures which left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was rather endearing that he placed Anne in the lead as the grand heroine of his stories, but on the other hand, I'm not terribly fond of embellishing the truth. Another thing about Horatio that I went back and forth on was his unwavering belief in Anne's dream. Again, it was rather sweet that he had that much faith in her, but at the same time it was a pretty fanciful idea that just as easily could have been a mere fantasy which made him seem quite impulsive. At times there were hints of something deeper within Horatio. He seemed to have a bit of a rebellious streak, not truly wanting to return to his army post in India, and he believes himself a failure because of his father berating him as such many times over. If this part of his back story had been explored further, I think it would have given Horatio a fuller, more complex personality. As it was, these events were simply something that happened to him and made him feel bad occasionally, but in the end, were easily overcome by him saving the day. Horatio was definitely a beta hero which I normally love, but in this case, I only partially connected with him. I think this was because he seemed to be a man completely adrift with no plan or purpose in life and very little self-confidence until he met Anne. Then she and her dream became his sole reason for living. I ended up feeling like he was emotionally relying on Anne a little too much which made him seem somewhat weak. However, the one thing I absolutely, and without question, adored about Horatio is that he was a scrumptious lover who really knew how to treat a woman right. The love scenes were very hot, romantic, and as creative as the book itself. Even Horatio's fantasies of what he would like to do to Anne before it ever happened were wonderful.
Much like Horatio, I had a rather difficult time getting a lock on Anne's personality too. She was certainly the more serious of the two characters, being the foil to Horatio's blitheness, but to have traveled with her mistress in hopes of finding the island she had dreamed of for so long, showed that she had a bit of impulsiveness in her as well. What bothered me about her was how she kept pushing Horatio away for the better part of the story and even once she realized she was in love with him, she was still exerting her independence which I felt left a certain distance between them as a couple. I understood Anne feeling somewhat unworthy of him because of her lower social station, but that was probably the least of her objections. On some level I also understood how difficult it might be to blindly follow ones dreams and to believe in a man who appeared to be so careless, but I felt like her repeated protestations made it seem like she had absolutely no confidence in either Horatio or herself. Near the end of the story, she finally has an epiphany, but just like with Horatio, I felt like there wasn't enough self-discovery taking place during the narrative and then it was just a magical thing that occurred. Maybe I'm being too picky since this is a pretty fanciful story to begin with, but I just prefer to see characters growing slowly rather than fighting it or worrying about what might happen only to have all their cares just disappear in a puff of smoke at the end. I never, at any point, disliked either Horatio or Anne. They were both decent characters, but they just didn't fully resonate with me.
The Wildest Shore has an eclectic international cast of secondary characters whose diverse backgrounds and personalities brought to mind another group of castaways from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Gilligan's Island. There was the gruff, big-built Dutch sailor, Ruut; the pretty boy Norwegian sailor, Ulrich; and the Chinese cabin boy, Kai, who is harboring a secret that I never would have predicted. I was just as shocked as Anne when it was revealed. Unfortunately, there were no details or explanations given after Kai's revelation which left me feeling rather disappointed. Later the mismatched group takes on an enigmatic native headhunter named Imsa. There was also the eccentric, or perhaps mad, French privateer, Philippe Chartier, who became Horatio and Anne's arch nemesis. Last but not least was Chartier's pet monkey, Mango, who develops an instant fondness for Anne. Mango was yet another unique thing in this already unusual book, because I don't believe I have ever read a monkey character in a romance novel before. He was good for a lot of laughs, as initially no one can stand the spoiled little beast, but eventually he seems to grow on them, especially Anne.
In my opinion, The Wildest Shore had what I would term roller-coaster pacing. One minute something exciting would be happening and the next there would be a lull in the story where my mind would begin wandering a bit. Or perhaps something emotional or romantic would happen, but before it could amp up to the next level, Horatio and Anne would start arguing or Anne would simply pull away. It made the narrative a little uneven for me, and could be a bit frustrating, because I would just be getting caught up in the moment only to have it end too quickly. Other than this and the issues I had with the characters, I did enjoy The Wildest Shore. I have to give the author kudos for trying something new and different and for doing hands on research. Much of the action and adventure of the tale is based on Lisa Cach's personal escapades sailing the Caribbean on a schooner and trekking through the jungles of Malaysia where she apparently experienced some of the same things as her heroine, Anne, did in the book. Also in spite of how incredible Anne and Horatio's ultimate destiny might have seemed, the author's note at the end indicates that something similar actually did happen to an Englishman around that same time period, so I guess she did her research well. Anyone who can suspend disbelief for a little while to just have fun and enjoy the ride should appreciate The Wildest Shore, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a historical romance that is out of the ordinary. This was my first read by Lisa Cach, but I will be on the look-out for others by her in the future.
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