The SwanSea Destiny, by Fayrene Preston

>> Monday, June 13, 2005

This post is for Màili, who wanted to know how I'd liked The SwanSea Destiny, by Fayrene Preston. I mentioned I had no memories of it from the last time I read it (probably about 10 years or so ago), but I refrained to put it in my Trade List when I went through my shelves because seeing it did elicit some vaguely positive feelings. I promised to do a quick reread this weekend, and here's what I though:

Socialite Arabella Linden was as flamboyant as she was beautiful. When she walked into the ballroom at SwanSea Place leading two snow-white peacocks, Jake Deverell knew the woman was worthy prey..At the stroke of midnight as the twenties roared into the new year 1929, Jake set out to capture the lovely Arabella and quickly found he was no longer a man on the prowl--but a man ensnared. He was entranced by the extravagant yet sweetly mysterious woman.

The illegitimate son and unwilling heir of a millionaire who abandoned him and his mother when he was born, Jake scorned all his father had achieved. Now, involved in bootlegging and pitted against the notorious racketeer Wade Scalia, Jake is falling more and more deeply in love with Arabella. When, suddenly, her life is jeopardized by his illegal activities, he must risk everything for her..and for the destiny at SwanSea.
Worth reading? Well, yes, if only because the setting is so different.This is no wallpaper historical, and the late 1920s setting figures heavily in the story.

At times it's even too heavy-handed... scenes like Jake's actress friend telling him à propos of nothing that she has to go to this award ceremony that they're holding for the very first time that year and which oh, by the way, they are calling the Academy Awards. And later in the book she even gives him a detailed description of who won what, even though up until then, Jake has shown absolutely no interest in the world of moviemaking.

Still, even if the author's hand shows occasionally, most of the time she managed to create a good, rich ambience. The novel is full of speakeasies and people dancing the Charleston and gangsters, and I also liked the glimpse into a world in which social mores are changing and women are gaining a bit more freedom.

As for the actual romance, it wasn't particularly good. I really liked the heroine, Arabella. She's an interesting character, smart, self-assured and remarkably sensible. Jake, on the other hand, was much more problematic, an immature little boy who's willing to devote his entire life to thwarting his father, even if this means he won't be happy either.

Not that I didn't think he had cause to hate his father, Edward. Jake's illegitimate and his father only recognized him as his son and made him his heir when his legitimate son got killed in World War I. When Jake's mother got pregnant, Edward tried to force her to get rid of the baby and when she refused, he abandoned her for her disobedience and never helped at all. Jake grew up seeing her working herself to the bone, practically going bling from sewing all day long, so he hates Edward for not helping out when it would have been so easy for him to do. Melodramatic, but I understand his holding a grudge.

So Jake accepts becoming Edward's heir, but he decides to spend his life hurting and embarrassing his father. He takes over the house that is Edward's pride and joy and runs his bootlegging empire from there. He keeps the house constantly open to guests which treat it pretty much like a brothel.

And, the main reason I disliked Jake: since what his father wants most of all is a dynasty, he refuses to give that to him. So, even though he's crazy about Arabella, he refuses to even think of marrying her because it "would make Edward too happy" to have him settle down with such a good match as Arabella. To hurt his father he's willing to make himself unhappy and to hurt the woman he's quickly coming to love.

This is a romance novel, so of course he changes his tune in the end, but by then it was too little, too late as far as I was concerned. He'd spent the entire book forcing Arabella to make sacrifices for him and refusing to give even an inch of himself.

My grade: a C+.


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