October 2012, Inspirational Romance (1891 Boston)
Bethany House, $14.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0764210238 Part of a series
Anyone who has ever spent the night pacing the floors with a teething baby knows just how desperate a person can get when trying to soothe a child. Many parents become frantic for a solution. In the mid-1800's such a solution came in the form of Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup. It quieted restless, pain filled children and gave them - and their parents - blessed sleep. It also made opium addicts out of the unsuspecting infants.
Lydia Pallas had a sparkling beginning to her young life. She was poor but so loved she barely knew it. At school, her gift for languages enabled her to befriend other immigrant students and the speed with which she picked up English helped her soar towards head of the class. Then one blustery day, her family goes fishing while she is in class. The fishing boat sinks and all Lydia's security goes with it. She is placed in an orphanage and her dreams for a shining future dim to nothing.
As an adult, Lydia's gift for languages saves her once more. She lands a position working as a translator for the U.S. Navy. She is extremely grateful for the job, which has allowed her to purchase a lovely apartment overlooking Boston Harbor and has enabled her to purchase books, curtains, and all the little things that make up a home. While this may not seem like much to ordinary folk, to Lydia it is everything. She has developed a deep craving for stability as a result of her shaky childhood and having a place of her own with everything in its place is vital to her. She may not have a family but that apartment has become her safe harbor when the storms of life blow. She knows she can handle whatever life throws at her so long as she has that anchor.
When ownership of the building changes hands and she comes under threat of losing the apartment, Lydia does the unthinkable. She agrees to work with Alexander "Bane" Banebridge. No one at the Navy Yard is exactly sure what it is Bane does there or what, in fact, he does at all, but they all agree he is something of a nuisance - and a hazard. For Lydia, it is his sleight of hand tricks with her desk items - changing the order of her ink bottles, turning her small painting upside down, all done in seconds even as she watches - that drive her crazy. But she desperately needs money to purchase her place and she agrees to translate for him.
Bane has been waging a one-man war against The Professor, a master criminal and opium smuggler for whom he once worked. Clever, charming, and talented, Bane has been successful at chipping away at the The Professor's enterprises but he is frustrated by his inability to find just how the opium is making it into the country. He has traced it to Boston Harbor but which of the hundreds of ships coming in is carrying the stuff? Reading bills of lading only in English has been no help. He needs a translator who can read multiple languages and Lydia is just the girl for him. With her help he can expand his search to ships from countries like Turkey and Albania, where the opium trade is a premium business.
It becomes quickly apparent to Bane that Lydia is not just the girl for him in terms of languages but everything else as well. From her pretty appearance to her clever wit, Lydia is his perfect foil. She matches him in courage as well, an important factor given what he is up against. Even as he finds himself falling head over heels though, Bane puts the brakes on his heart. He might love Lydia but there is no future for them. While the Professor exists, Bane is a target. He endangers Lydia just by being around her. How can he endanger her even further by making a public declaration of love and marrying her?
Lydia risks everything to be with Bane, including her life. She has quickly gone from translator to partner-in-crime, searching shipping offices with him late at night, trying to discover the source of the opium. In her office Bane is nicknamed "The Adonis" for his lovely looks but it is the man behind the pretty face that Lydia is falling for. Bane is brilliant, talented, fierce, and dedicated. He's bold and brave and caring. So why won't he take a chance on them and let their love be their port in this dangerous storm?
Fans of Ms. Camden's books will recognize Bane from her novel The Lady of Bolton Hill. Bane is typically the kind of character I despise. Not only is he smart and talented and clever, he is gorgeous with seemingly bottomless resources. But while Bane is handsome, charming, extremely intelligent, etc., he is presented with enough flaws to keep him human, making him both more relatable and more real. He is also wise in picking his perfect woman; Lydia brings not just her considerable intelligence to the table. She also brings a sweetness and warmth Bane lacks. She tempers his fiery passion against opium with her equally passionate but also compassionate look at the trade. She sees the people harmed by it and brings their stories forward, giving the battle's victims a voice. Lydia is in a unique position to do this because she herself is an addict. Unbeknownst to her, her headache medication (Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup) contained a large amount of opium. Because she has been given the medication since childhood, her addiction is quite strong.
May I just say how much I loved that aspect of the story? Not only was it great that Lydia is an addict, which opens up the door to looking at everything a person goes through when they kick a habit like this, but it also opened the door to a really fascinating piece of history. At one point in time, America did not require ingredient listing on over the counter medications. The result was that many "effective" medicines contained dangerous ingredients, with the buyers completely in ignorance. I loved exploring that piece of the past via these characters.
Actually, I loved very nearly everything about the book and it was humming steadily along towards DIK status when it hit a roadblock. The problem had to do with an important secondary character, Admiral Fontaine. At one point, Admiral Fontaine was my choice for hero. He was Lydia's constant champion, offering her the job at the Navy yard and saving her from a life of hard labor at the fish canneries. Then he served as her lawyer when the new owners of the building she lived in tried to evict her illegally. His devotion to the U.S. Navy and determination to build it up from obscurity was yet another factor in his favor. The tragedy of his wife's death, the devotion he had to his remaining family, and his gentlemanly behavior that was admired by all who knew him, made him a character worth rooting for. Then about a third of the way through the book he behaves in an absolutely heinous manner. I know it all happened so that the plot could move forward, and he also did several things toward the end of the novel that helped to negate his previous acts. But honestly, the initial crime far outweighed his redemptive acts. The action was destructive towards Lydia and frankly, downright cruel. This entire sequence dropped the book from DIK status, not just because the act seemed out of character given what we knew of the Admiral, but also because it showed a bit of sloppy technique on the authorís part. Thankfully, this is a small blip that only mildly detracts from another wise awesome read.
For some the fact that Bane was constantly placing Lydia in danger might also be a road block to perfection. This actually worked for me. Lydia was OCD, requiring sameness in all aspects of her life so she could build security into her existence. However, a large part of the book was about Lydia placing her trust in the Lord, not her things or her physical safety, so her willingness to step into danger was actually an aspect of her growth. I also felt it made her more of an equal with Bane; he simply isn't a character that sits back and plays it safe and a shy, retiring bride would never have been the right wife for him. Watching her step out and take chances was one of the highlights of the novel for me.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Camden is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers and that is because of her consistent ability to provide hours of quality reading pleasure. I am already looking forward to the next novel by this wonderful author.
-- Maggie Boyd
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