The Iron Rose, by Marsha Canham

>> Friday, August 27, 2004

I love, love, LOVE books with strong heroines, in gender-bending roles and, from all accounts, that's what The Iron Rose (excerpt), by Marsha Canham was, so I snapped it up the minute I saw it.

After the Spanish galleon attacked the English merchant ship, Varian St. Clare was shocked to learn that the captain of the privateer who saved him was Juliet Dante, daughter of legendary Pirate Wolf...

Varian had been sent by the King to tell Juliet's father about a new peace treaty between Spain and England. Juliet agrees to bring Varian to her father-but only as her hostage. But as the attraction between Juliet and Varian builds, and as intrigue swirls, the danger of the high seas will match the danger of surrendering to desire...
I'm not into pirate romances, as a rule, but having the heroine be the pirate made all the difference, and I loved The Iron Rose. It'd be a keeper if it weren't for my feelings about the last 50 pages and a certain small niggle about the portrayal of the hero's feelings there at the end. As it is, it's a B+.

I adored Juliet. A friend on one of my online discussion groups once said that she didn't like Juliet because she was so manly that she did everything "but piss standing up". Well, my friend was pretty much right about Juliet, but I liked this, myself. I didn't feel she lacked femininity just because she could do what men did and did it. I'm often irritated by heroines who claim this, because most of the times they end up NOT being able to do what a man does, and have to be rescued by the hero after being humiliated, but Juliet was perfectly competent, a better swordswoman than even Varian, so that made all the difference. She was better than any man at pursuits like fencing and sailing her ship and leading her men, and I thought she was wonderful.

I really liked the way her sexual past was portrayed. She hadn't been particularly promiscuous, but she'd had some good sexual relationships, and she was just fine with this. She wasn't scarred by it, or anything, as some authors seem to think a proper "virtuous" heroine should feel, it's simply her life and nothing she obsesses about. She reminded me a bit of Vivian Swift, in Taylor Chase's Heart of Deception, in that. This past is soooo much less contrived than that of those heroines who've been living in milieus like the London underworld or a pirate ship and yet are still miraculously untouched and terribly naive as well.

Oh, and I thought Juliet's relationship with her family was terribly refreshing. So often, men like Juliet's father Simon, who had his own story told in Across a Moonlit Sea, end up, for all their supposed freethinking ways, the most overprotective parents when it comes to their daughters. I very much respected him and his wife Isabeau for treating Juliet just like her brothers, giving all their children the same rights and responsabilities, including the right to conduct their love lives as they see fit.

I really enjoyed Juliet's romance with Varian, who I thought was the perfect guy for her. Here's a man who actually likes her strength and feels attracted to it, and yet doesn't allow himself to be dominated. I don't think I'd call Varian a Beta, but he definitely isn't the kind of alpha who feels threatened when a woman shows better skills than him at something. When this happened in the book (quite a few times, actually ;-), Varian was actually appreciative of Juliet's actions. The only bad thing about him I can think of was his name, and that's probably just me. It just so happens that the microeconomics textbook that was my bible in university was written by Hal Varian, so I couldn't help but think of it every time our hero was mentioned.

And now for the negatives, which were the reason this book didn't get an A-range grade. My main problem was that I was completely uninterested in the last 50 pages. I think this which was a bit of a flaw in pacing. I wasn't reading the book for the sea battles and the plot about the Spanish and British ships battling it out, so once Varian and Juliet settled their relationship (I love you - Me, too - Let's be together - Yes), that was it for me, and I had a hard time slogging through 50 more pages of ambushes at sea and general swashbuckling.

Also, and this isn't really *bad*, just something which could have been improved, I really would have liked to see Varian's mind in the moment he decided he actually LOVED Juliet and that he wanted to give up his past life and stay with her. We just kind of skipped from lust and burgeoning tenderness to In love, without really seeing the process.

Still, a very strong, enjoyable read, with a heroine who goes into my "favourites" list.

Oh, and before I forget, I really liked the cover. It conveyed the Caribbean setting perfectly.

Cover of The Iron Rose


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