Desert Isle Keeper Review
Mary Jo Putney
2004 reissue of 1996 release, European Historical Romance (Regency Belgium and England)
Signet, $7.50, 379 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451213289
Part of a series
I'm not sure exactly which romances I would grab if the house was on fire and I could only save ten, but I know one of them would be Mary Jo Putney's Shatterd Rainbows. I love all the books in her Fallen Angels series, but this one is easily my favorite. Not only is it Putney's best book; it's one of the best romances ever written. It really has it all - a hero to die for, and noble heroine who is practically a saint (but longs to be a real woman), war, action, suspense, beautiful love scenes, and an extraordinary conflict.
Michael Kenyon is the second son of a duke, and an able military man. A veteran of the Peninsular Wars, he immediately joins the army again when Napoleon escapes from Elba. The British army is headquartered in Brussels as they wait for the war to begin, and Michael finds a billet with two cavalry officers, their wives, and his friend Kenneth Wilding (the hero of River of Fire). Catherine Melbourne is one of the officer's wives, and Michael is immediately drawn to her. She is beautiful, but she is also kind, generous, and an angel to wounded soldiers. The daughter of an officer, she has followed the drum all her life. Her parents died when she was only sixteen, and she quickly married Colin Melbourne, a cavalry officer.
Although Colin is brave and a good father to their daughter Amy, he is also unfaithful and somewhat careless with money. Catherine doesn't love him, but she is determined to conduct herself honorably, especially when she realizes she is in love with Michael. Michael is already wracked with guilt because he once had an affair with a married woman - a mistake which he is determined never to repeat. As war looms on the horizon, Catherine and Michael try to savor the time they have with each other - without giving into their passions or even confessing their love. The book reaches an emotional climax with the battle of Waterloo. Michael is gravely injured, and Catherine saves his life with the help of an innovative doctor.
Shortly after Michael returns to England, Colin Melbourne is murdered. You would think that Catherine and Michael would have smooth sailing from here on out, but there are still many problems to face. Catherine is afraid to contact Michael at first because she thinks he may have already found another woman who can make him happy. She also has personal reasons for not wanting to marry again, so she resolves not to contact Michael at all. That changes when she suddenly finds out that she may stand to inherit of a small, feudal island called Skoal from her grandfather. He won't leave the island to a single woman, and he hasn't yet heard of Colin's death. Since she and Amy are virtually penniless, she feels she has little choice but to deceive her grandfather. She asks Michael to pose as Colin, and he reluctantly agrees. Because she doesn't want Michael to offer for her out of obligation, she tells him only that Colin is still in France and wouldn't be able to reach her grandfather in time.
When Catherine and Michael are on the island of Skoal, Michael finds out about Colin's death, and he is also able to overcome Catherine's qualms about marrying again.. But danger still lurks in the shadows. Catherine has a rival for the inheritance - her cousin. No one realizes just how badly he wants to inherit Skoal until it is nearly too late. He kidnaps Amy and takes Michael and Catherine to a neighboring island where he plans to hunt them as prey. Fighting for their lives, they must overcome almost impossible odds together before they can finally find the happiness they have been seeking.
Shatterd Rainbows is perfect from start to finish, with a love story that haunts you long after the final page has been read. The settings of wartime Belgium and the island of Skoal provide dramatic backdrops for an unforgettable romance. The plot is exciting and fast paced, and there are emotional scenes that tug at the heart and bring a tear to the eye.
Michael and Catherine are wonderful characters. Both are noble and just a bit larger than life, but they have human failings that make them seem real. Michael's past affair with a married woman and his subsequent guilt make his love for the married Catherine agonizing, and his behavior is always above reproach. He can't help wishing that Colin weren't around, but he is so honorable that when Colin is about to ride off to battle on an inferior horse he offers his own mount.
Catherine observes early in the book that "it is easier to be a saint than a woman." This describes her behavior perfectly. She conducts herself admirably in a marriage without intimacy, holding herself apart from other soldiers until she meets Michael. She is a perfect uncomplaining army wife and expert nurse, but her deepest longing is to experience the love and affection that other women enjoy. The scene in which she and Michael consummate their relationship - and she finally realizes that she can enjoy intimacy - is tender and beautiful.
Anyone who loves a good conflict will relish this book. The reader's heart nearly breaks for Catherine and Michael as they honorably restrain their feelings for each other, and their struggle for survival at the end is gripping and intense. Problems such as these make standard romance conflicts - such as the ubiquitous hero who doesn't believe in love - seem trivial.
I have read many romances that are pleasant and diverting, but few stand the test of time as well as Shatterd Rainbows. It's the type of book that stands up to several readings, always as compelling as it was the first time. Superbly crafted, it has a setting, plot, conflict and characters that combine to form a harmonious whole. Simply put, Shatterd Rainbows is the best of the best. Romance just doesn't get any better than this.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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