Can he salvage her reputation?
Trapped in the Arctic ice, intrepid explorer Captain Conrad Essington was driven on by thoughts of his fiancée, Katie Vickers. Finally home, he’s ready to take her in his arms and kiss away the nightmare of that devastating winter.
Except the last eighteen months haven’t been plain sailing for Katie either. With Conrad believed dead and her reputation in tatters, Katie had relinquished hope of her fiancé ever returning to save her. Now he’s back, could the dreams they’d both put on hold at last come true?
Publisher and Release Date: Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical, August 2015
Time and Setting: England, 1820
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Caz
The Captain’s Frozen Dream is a tale of lovers reunited after a year-and-a-half’s separation. Both have endured much in the months since last they saw each other, but those events have profoundly changed them both – perhaps so much so that they will never be able to recapture the feelings they once held for one another.
Captain Conrad Essington took up a commission in the Discovery Service rather than remain in the Navy as a half-pay officer without a ship following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He has become a respected and well-known explorer, in spite of the efforts of his bitter, twisted uncle, the Marquess of Helton to prevent his advancement. But Conrad’s most recent expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage went seriously awry, and saw him and his crew stranded in dangerous, inhospitable conditions for eighteen months, a situation for which Conrad blames himself.
Conrad had an understanding with a young woman, Katie Vickers, the daughter of a country doctor-turned-palaeontologist, who often worked on the finds from the captain’s expeditions, cleaning and cataloguing the items that Conrad brought back with him. Before leaving for the Arctic, Conrad asked Katie to marry him, but she wanted to wait until his return before making any firm commitment. Furious at the prospect of a nobody polluting the aristocratic Helton line, the marquess caused Katie’s father’s work to be discredited, and made sure her reputation was shredded in Conrad’s absence, so that nobody, even the more liberal of the scientific societies, will take her work seriously.
When Conrad eventually returns, it’s to find a very different Katie to the open, optimistic young woman he left behind. She has had to cope with the death of her father as well as the scandal not of her making, and is still angry with Conrad for leaving and for not being there for her when she needed him. For his part, Conrad is haunted by the events that led to the loss of his ship and his crew being stranded, and also for the death of one of his closest friends among the crew. It was the thought of Katie and returning to her that enabled him to carry on through some of the darkest days of his life – and yet now he is home, she persists in pushing him away.
Conrad is determined to win her back but has underestimated the difficulty of the challenge he has set himself. Katie is emotionally fragile and determined never again to place her happiness in the hands of someone who – she believes – can never be content staying in one place.
The thing I enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of a rather unusual background for her story, which is set amongst the scientific community in the early years of the 19th century. As she explains in her note at the end, fossil hunting, the study of ancient creatures and attempts to date different geological periods in rock strata was an area of growing scientific interest worldwide at this period, and she has referenced the work of several experts of the time and included some as characters in the book. She also makes it clear just how difficult it was for a woman to be taken seriously in such circles, and her research into the scientific background, both in terms of the geological detail and the work of the intrepid explorers of the 19th century is clearly extensive.
As a romance, however, the story is less successful, mostly because it’s difficult to like or sympathise with Katie and the majority of her actions towards Conrad. It’s very true that through no fault of her own – other than falling in love with the nephew of a powerful aristocrat – she has been vilified in society, and owing to that and to the fact that her father’s death left her with nothing but debt, her life has become one big struggle. Growing up with a father who paid her little attention until she was old enough to assist him in his work, and knowing that her father’s obsession with his fossils was the cause of her mother’s leaving them both, Katie finds it difficult to trust Conrad, sure that he will abandon her eventually because he is as obsessed with his work as her father was with his. I don’t think one can blame her for feeling that way – the problem is that for almost all of the book she refuses to attempt to see another point of view or admit that perhaps she is allowing her past to dictate her actions to the detriment of her happiness. Conrad wants only to help her, to help to put right the damage done by his uncle and to marry her, yet she runs away from him and rejects him repeatedly. Fortunately for her, Conrad is persistent, but after the third rebuff, I was starting to think that perhaps he’d be better off without her! At one point, Conrad finally snaps and accuses Katie of blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in her life – and it’s true. All she sees are her own problems, yet even though she has realised that Conrad isn’t exactly the same man as the one that went away, she is so self-focused on her grievances and hurt that she fails to see that he’s hurting, too.
The writing is solid and as I’ve said above, Ms Lee has obviously done her homework when it comes to the historical setting and background, but although I normally enjoy stories of lovers reunited, The Captain’s Frozen Dream didn’t quite hit the mark for me in the romance department.