By Laura London, aka Sharon and Tom Curtis, 1984, Historical
(Bantam reissue, $4.99) ISBN #0-553-56806-X
"Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn."
So begins one of the most beloved historical romances and my personal favorite. When it was first released in 1984, The Windflower was a revelation to me - a many-layered, multi-textured leap forward that set a new standard of excellence for the genre.
As evidenced in their other books, Sharon and Tom Curtis have a remarkable talent for taking an ordinary young woman and putting her into extraordinary circumstances that captivate the reader. Arguably, this is their master work.
Heroine Merry Wilding lives a quiet life in her small Virginia community with a maiden aunt whose devotion to all things British has left them nearly ostracized. But Mary is soon wrenched from her pallid existence and thrust into a full-blown adventure when she runs afoul of Devon, a gorgeous Englishman who thinks she's consorting with his enemy. Tossed into his cabin aboard a pirate ship, Merry struggles to preserve her virtue - and her very life.
But The Windflower is not your typical shipboard romance, nor are the pirates standard issue. These violent men with intriguing pasts are among the most realistic to be found in romantic fiction. In the guise of a benevolent dictator, Captain Rand Morgan maneuvers those around him like chess pieces. At one point he leaves a leaky boat for Merry to use in an escape attempt that nearly drowns her and turns Devon against her with renewed fervor. When called on it, Rand calmly explains, "One must suffer a little adversity if one wants to be interesting."
Under his tutelage, Merry changes from a timid, sheltered girl with few resources into a brave, self-possessed, complex young woman capable of holding her own with anyone, including Devon. Bedeviled by his own demons, Devon is torn between his desire for Merry and his obsession with revenge. One of the most appealing heroes ever created, Devon can be dangerously beguiling, incredibly tender, and suddenly lethal.
But Merry has a secret that threatens their evolving relationship, and she keeps it throughout her imprisonment, escape, recapture, near-fatal illness and recuperation. Only when Devon takes her with him to England are all the many threads of the story resolved, including the identity of the unicorn that has been visiting Merry's dreams since her childhood.
From its very first sentence, The Windflower seduces the senses with lush, lyrical, evocative prose. It is a brilliantly-plotted work full of wonderful details, subtle eroticism, clever humor, and heart-wrenching emotion, yet it is the characters that really capture the reader. Not only are the hero and heroine unforgettable, but a wealth of secondary characters are drawn with a richness and depth rarely equalled. The pirates, especially Rand and his teenage protege Cat, are so compelling that each begs for his own story. When the cold Cat, bought from an island brothel at the age of twelve, cries over Merry, it is one of the most moving passages of the book. I can only add my voice to the chorus requesting a sequel.
Although The Windflower was reissued in 1995, I still love the original cover, a beautiful close-up rendering the hero and heroine leaning forward into a kiss. Like the story, it's a one-of-a-kind that I've not seen before or since. Indeed, after thirteen years and numerous readings, The Windflower still has the power to dazzle and delight me as no other. A true Desert Isle Keeper, it more than fulfills the promise of good romance: you will laugh; you will cry; and you will want to read it again and again.
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