Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pale Moon Rider by Marsha Canham *****

I first started reading Marsha Canham when I learned she had a book series that took place around the time of the Scottish defeat at Culloden in 1745. That was the time period that Outlander started in, so I was interested in it for that reason. The 2 books – The Blood of Roses and The Pride of Lions – are actually more like 1 long book, since it's the same protagonists and truly, the ending of the first book makes it imperative for the reader to keep going – leaving the hero watching the heroine's ship sail out of sight is too unrewarding to stop there! I loved the series.

Canham's style is broad, sweeping, swashbuckling – no pale, timid heroines for her, or beta heroes for that matter. I have since read more, but not all, of her books, and have enjoyed them all. But this one is not only a keeper but has risen to at least my top 10 favorites, maybe in the top 3. (Ok, it's difficult to compare it to Linda Howard's To Die For, which currently holds my top spot, since the time period, the writing, everything about the 2 books are so different!)

This one takes place shortly after the French Revolution. The heroine, Renée, and her brother Antoine have recently arrived in England from France with their trusty servant Finn. They are the only family members left of the Duc d'Orlons – the rest of the family has been killed in the revolution, at the guillotine or, as their mother was, beaten to death by the crowds in the street. Renée is 20, and her brother is only 13. He is now mute, mouthing words only, since he watched his mother's brutal death. Finn has spirited them back to their uncle, their mother's estranged brother. It seems mother eloped with a young Frenchman some 20-odd years earlier, and was disinherited, even though the family of the Frenchman in question was one of France's wealthiest families, and his father a Duke.

The book opens with Renée's carriage being stopped by a highwayman – none other than the infamous Captain Starlight. She is glad to see him, as she is being used as a pawn to draw him in – if she manages to do this, and helps him be caught by his nemesis, Captain Roth, the false attempted murder charges against Antoine will be dropped. Of course, she is still to be married to the fishmonger, Edgar Vincent, arranged by her uncle, so she is in desperate straits all around, desperate enough to meet with this dangerous and shadowy character.

Captain Starlight aka Tyrone Hart is instantly captivated by the young Frenchwoman, and agrees to meet her again in 3 days time to arrange for him to waylay her while she is wearing an expensive set of jewels her betrothed has given her. She intends to get away from all of them, with the jewels, Antoine and Finn, and head to New Orleans to start a new life. Hart, being the sneaky devil he is, manages to follow her, even into her uncle's house, to confront her about her deal with him. But when he sees her taking a sponge bath, and standing half naked in the moonlight, well, let's just say the Little Captain took over his thought processes and… The game was on – the game of her stealing the jewels and getting away; the game of her leading him to the authorities; the game of his besting her and getting away, alone, and holding the jewels himself; but mainly the game of the two of them falling in love.

Canham's prose brings to mind all the swashbuckling heroic movies you've ever seen, with storm water splashing over the sides of old sailing vessels and men in dark capes riding hell-for-leather across the countryside and villains shouting Stand And Deliver! to the coachriders. Her love scenes are visual, lush, sensual, romantic; well, every scene is like that, actually. She manages to have you sitting at the edge of your seat, wide-eyed and breathless, waiting for a resolution, and gasping as the situation gets worse and more impossible to escape, turning the pages as fast as your eyes can scan the page and process the meaning. I loved every minute, every page, every phrase! No simpering miss here – Renée is fragile in some ways, and tough as leather in others – she will do whatever she can for her own, for her brother , for Finn, and in the end for Tyrone. She's truly a Mama Bear with no thought for her own safety. Of course, Tyrone is a marvelous hero, tall, dark and dangerous, never intending to leave room in his life for anything so domestic as a woman, until… he meets Renée.

The secondary characters are also marvelous – the fragile brother Antoine, the stalwart servant Finn, Tyrone's sidekick Robert Dudley and his pregnant girlfriend Maggie, as well as the bad guys – Roth, Vincent and the cheating uncle, Lord Paxton.

Did I mention I loved this story??? I read it for the Spring 2009 Challenge category of a book with "moon" in the title, as well as because I plan to read every one of her books eventually. 5+ stars, Keeper, top 3!!

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