Desert Isle Keeper Review

My Love, My Enemy
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

Jan Cox Speas
1984, Historical Romance (1810s [War of 1812] U.S., England, France, Bermuda)
Avon, $4.99, Amazon ASIN 0380018691

Grade: A
Sensuality: Kisses

A great book is a always a welcome find but one recommended by a friend is even better. My Love, My Enemy is this kind of book. When her name was first mentioned to me, I thought, "Jan Cox Speas - who"? Now I think, "Jan Cox Speas - great author"! Everything about her writing is a joy. The main characters are well drawn and act believably for their time. The secondary characters are not just space fillers but are important in their own right and help advance the plot. Her descriptive style is a pleasure to read as it beautifully unfolds the story and the research is meticulous without being fussy. I love this book.

It is 1813 and America and England are once again at war. British naval ships harry any American vessel available and sail boldly up the Chesapeake. But in her Maryland home such unpleasantness is a distant thing for Catherine Page Bradley. On a pleasant day trip to Annapolis to buy a bonnet which would not be a hand me down from three older sisters, Page discovers a man and his gentleman's gentleman about to be hanged by a mob as English spies. Obeying an impulse, Page hurries onto the scene and manages to pacify the crowd and get the two men onto her father's sloop for the trip home up the Bay. But as Duncan MacDougall, her father's overseer, remarks, "from her earliest days she had possessed an untidy knack of attracting misfortune to herself as well as any unwary and innocent bystander." This knack, through a series of spiraling events lands Page, MacDougall and the two rescued men aboard a British warship where she learns that, "a declaration of war may be binding upon men sworn to uphold it, but it cannot force them to hatred."

Jocelyn Edward Trevor, fourth Viscount Hazard is the man she can't force herself to hate. Conscious of his debt to Page for saving his life and appalled that she is taken as a POW, he pledges to safely restore Page to her family. What he can't foresee is the series of naval battles and an overeager American privateer captain that will land them in Bermuda, on a trip across the Atlantic raiding British convoys, and separated in France and Spain for the short duration left of the Peninsular War. But Fate isn't through with their travel plans yet and takes them on a trip to London before a devastating revelation sends Page back to America to witness the British burn Washington before Fate finally reunites the lovers and leaves them in peace.

Page starts out from her home as a sheltered young miss - how can she be otherwise - but she is by no means a stupid country bumpkin. She's smart and as events and circumstances conspire to give her a quick lesson in real life, she spreads her intellectual and emotional wings and flies. From the first she finds, to her patriotic dismay, that it is impossible for her not to like the British whom she meets even if she despises British military arrogance. Part of the fun of this book is watching her grapple with this dilemma and finally admit the truth that while she is a loyal American, there is one Englishman for whom she has particular feelings.

Even though he loves her from the start, Hazard feels honor bound to treat Page with every courtesy and not force any unwanted attentions on her. Or at least not until the attentions are not unwanted. Accustomed to having things the way he wants them, Hazard is determined not to let a small trifle such as a war between their two countries keep them apart. It's amusing to watch him try to remain cool and in charge in the face of the hurdles that Fate and Page's American loyalty throw in his path.

All the secondary characters are well fleshed out and each contributes meaningfully to the final ending. Miss Eliza Wyndham acts as Page's unflappable chaperon through most of her travels and shrewdly nudges her charge on the course of self discovery. Daniel Mason - the dashing American privateer - skillfully and joyfully harries British naval might wherever the opportunity presents itself. Dour Scotsman Duncan MacDougall gets dragged into the whole mess but gleefully jumps at the chance to join the privateer crew in raiding the British and winds up with a pretty French bride. And Hazard's man Farley, is a gem who makes Jeeves look slack.

But beyond the great characters is the compact beauty and excitement of Ms Speas' writing. She doesn't just write about naval battles and landscapes. She writes thrilling encounters which make you feel the sea spray, see the roaring guns and causes your pulse to pound as the agile ships race against each other. The heat and blinding turquoise beauty of Bermuda shimmers before you while the cold winter rain of Brittany makes you shiver and huddle closer under a blanket. The crowded bustle of London and stylish elegance of the regency ton is captured so distinctly that I almost gawked like a country cousin come to town. Her writing style is smooth and the story flows effortlessly without any obvious anachronisms.

After reading My Love, My Enemy, I know why one published author keeps her cherished copies of Speas' books under glass for protection. My only regret about recommending this book is that it has been out of print for over 20 years. As such, you'll need to beg, borrow, steal or refinance your home at 125% to find a copy but believe me it is worth your effort. Ms Speas only wrote two other romance books, Bride of the MacHugh and My Lord Monleigh, but I can't wait to dive into them and get lost in more of her wonderful storytelling.

-- Patricia S.

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