I absolutely loved Kate Lyon's previous release, Hope's Captive, which was a straight-up historical western romance with one of the worst covers to ever scald my retinas. Despite having a similar-sounding title, her latest, Destiny's Captive is unrelated to that book. It's a sequel, of sorts, to the author's debut novel, Time's Captive, which was a time travel (Read KristieJ's review). While I do think Destiny's Captive does stand alone, the fact that it's connected to a time travel romance should clue readers into the fact that, while it's essentially a historical romance, there's a healthy thread of woo-woo running through this tale.
Jeremiah Baldwin was the son of preacher man when his father's religious settlement (aptly named Baldwin's Fort) was attacked by bandits. They burned it to the ground, murdering everyone in sight. However, the man leading the raid saw a way to make a few extra bucks, so he rounded up the young men, one of which was our hero, and sold them off as slaves. Jeremiah eventually finds himself living with the Comanche, and taking the name Chikoba, becomes a fierce warrior. However when his wife and unborn child are murdered by U.S. soldiers, he is grief stricken. It's during a vision quest that the Great Spirit tells him to return to his childhood home, and uncover the truth behind his white family's murder.
Who he finds is Miguel Sanchez, a wealthy man who has turned the land into a thriving rancho, complete with gorgeous hacienda. However, when Jeremiah pays him a visit, the man isn't all that happy to see him. After he leaves that meeting, he's beaten to a pulp and left for dead. He's found by Sanchez's adopted daughter, Angelina ("Angel"). She has no idea the almost dead man paid a visit to her father, she just knows she can't leave him there to die. So with the help of some friends, she spirits him away to nurse him back to health. Unfortunately that is the start of a whole mess of problems. Angel's dear Papa has been keeping many secrets, and she has no memories of her life before he adopted her.
This story starts out pretty well. Jeremiah has a ton of baggage, and the mystery surrounding what happened at Baldwin's Fort is compelling. Giving a character a mystery to unravel is a good way to engage the reader. I was less enthralled with the mystical aspects of this story. Certainly, when connected to a time travel book, coupled with Native American religious customs, you're going to get some woo-woo. I'm a big enough person to admit this really comes down to a personal preference issue. Some readers will undoubtedly love the fact that wolves (yes, wolves) seem to follow Jeremiah around, while other readers will roll their eyes. But while I wasn't wild about this aspect, it really didn't sink the book for me. No, that was all Angel's doing.
I'll admit it, I tend to be a hard judge of heroines. I expect them to behave in a consistent manner and have a few brains in their heads (I know, radical notion). Unfortunately Angel comes off as both spoiled and brain-dead. Sanchez pampers her, and she tends to behave like a child all the while trying to convince her Papa that she's a "grown woman." The writing was definitely on the wall when very early on she takes it into her pea brain to flirt with one of the villains to try to uncover his secrets. Naturally she sucks at it, and lands herself in hot water. Then there's the small matter that her beloved Papa is a lying scumbag asshole that she blindly defends for three-quarters of the blessedly book.
Look, I get it. He adopted her. Doted on her. Sheltered her. It's only natural that she wouldn't immediately believe that he was capable of "bad stuff." But after a while, it just gets absurd. Even as more and more circumstantial evidence mounts, even as more and more things don't begin to add up - she vehemently tells Jeremiah that he's wrong. Her Papa would never do the horrible things he's accusing him of! Even when her father treats her badly, and accuses her of betraying him - she's still convinced he's innocent of any wrong-doing.
Seriously, I spent this whole book wanting to smack the tar out of this stupid twit.
Because of her idiocy, I had a hard time buying into the romance. For one thing, Jeremiah seems to get over his dead wife and unborn baby pretty darn quick (I guess I expected more angst on that issue), and for another, when they aren't arguing about her father, Jeremiah and Angel are boinking like bunnies. I didn't buy it. They never really "talked" and the author sort of skirts the "getting to know you phase" - but it made for a fairly weak connection. Also, for someone so naive, Angel practically ripping Jeremiah's clothes off really didn't ring true. She goes from pampered virgin to experienced courtesan faster than I can tear through a piece of cheesecake. And trust me - I'm pretty darn quick on the draw when it comes to cheesecake.
What Lyon continues to do well is plotting. This is a good story. The mystery, the secrets, the lies - all of it is compelling. Also, she has a knack for weaving in interesting history and real-life historical figures into her stories. I was particularly taken with Texas Governor Richard Coke, and some of the fictional secondary characters that played important roles in the story.
Unfortunately, when one of the main characters doesn't work for me (especially the heroine!) it's hard for the book as a whole to work for me. I kept wanting to rewrite her character, or add on another 200 pages to this story to make it into a saga. Give the author more time to work up a convincing transformation for the heroine, going from naive girl to woman confronted by the truth. That may have worked better for me. But as is, this one was disappointing.
Final Grade = D