The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

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1775, Boston Harbor. James Sparhawk, Master and Commander in the British Navy, knows trouble when he sees it. The ship he’s boarded is carrying ammunition and gold…into a country on the knife’s edge of war. Sparhawk’s duty is clear: confiscate the cargo, impound the vessel and seize the crew. But when one of the ship’s boys turns out to be a lovely girl, with a loaded pistol and dead-shot aim, Sparhawk finds himself held hostage aboard a Rebel privateer.

Sarah Ward never set out to break the law. Before Boston became a powder keg, she was poised to escape the stigma of being a notorious pirate’s daughter by wedding Micah Wild, one of Salem’s most successful merchants. Then a Patriot mob destroyed her fortune and Wild played her false by marrying her best friend and smuggling a chest of Rebel gold aboard her family’s ship.

Now branded a pirate herself, Sarah will do what she must to secure her family’s safety and her own future. Even if that means taking part in the cat and mouse game unfolding in Boston Harbor, the desperate naval fight between British and Rebel forces for the materiel of war—and pitting herself against James Sparhawk, the one man she cannot resist

Publisher and Release Date: Penguin, March 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1775, Salem and Boston, Massachusetts
Genre: Historical Romantic Suspense
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Sarah Ward is a desperate woman. The strong and beautiful daughter of an infirm (and infamous) pirate, she is no stranger to life at sea and smuggling means survival as she lives in genteel poverty in Salem, Massachusetts. Her older brother, Benji, is an elusive man with dangerous secrets of his own. During a routine smuggling run, Sarah uncovers a chest of gold stored aboard ship when she’s captured by handsome British Captain, James Sparhawk. In a wonderfully surprising and unexpected opening scene, she trades the gold and takes Sparhawk hostage to keep her younger brother, Ned, safe from naval impressment.

Sarah was once betrothed to Micah Wild, an influential and wealthy Salem merchant with fair weather loyalties but, when he releases her from their engagement after her family loses their fortune, he marries her best friend instead and vows to make Sarah his mistress.

Captain James Sparhawk – not his real name – is master and commander of the British Navy, a man with a questionable past who seeks the truth of his parentage. His unfailing kindness and great honor toward Sarah as well as her family – as well as his dashing good looks – attract and endear him to Sarah (and to this reader). Her family holds her ultimate loyalty but James Sparhawk tempts her beyond reason. With the descriptions of James’ origins – a gentleman’s education, a Caribbean birthplace of Nevis – his character is loosely based on doomed patriot Alexander Hamilton and also the fictional James Annesley from Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson; a quick tweet to Donna Thorland confirms this.

There are no elegant rides in the park or balls or glittering romance in this riveting love story. Instead, there are stolen moments of brief and intense passion punctuated by deceit and betrayal, imminent peril, and abject fear. There is great risk at every turn. It is often heartbreaking, and Sarah and James are often separated for a good portion of the book, but each is always in the other’s thoughts. The searing sexual tension between hero and heroine throughout is vivid and exciting to read.

Sarah and James both endure harrowing situations, for these are difficult and precarious times. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else as revolution hovers in the air, while Boston is a powder keg of divided loyalties. Without money and with a sick father to care for, Sarah’s dire situation is especially frightening. But she is saved by the kindness of yet another gentleman, Anthony Trent – a baron – who is also attracted to Sarah, but sincerely wishes to help her and her family. He also carries dangerous secrets.

Needless to say, this is a very complex novel which sometimes had me re-reading sections to completely understand and grasp what was going on. The exciting twists and turns involving both Sarah and James intertwine at different points in the novel and I cannot disclose too much without spoiling the story. Each chapter moves between Sarah’s and James’ points of view in real-time so that we see what both are experiencing at the same moment, adding to the nail-biting anxiety.

American history is as much a leading character as the romance. Authentic descriptions of fashion, grand houses and common inns, groaning wagons loaded with worldly and elegant possessions as people leave Boston and Salem, the briny smells of the sea, the landscape of early New England, and comprehensive detail of ships’ specifications fill the pages. As in Thorland’s debut, The Turncoat, historical figures make appearances here, including Dr. Joseph Warren, Admiral Samuel Graves, and General Gage and his American wife, Margaret Kemble Gage.

Ms Thorland includes a helpful reading guide, recommended reading list, and an author interview with insights on her research into revolutionary America. Many people are not aware that not all Americans supported revolution and many Loyalist families suffered at the hands of Rebels, Sarah’s family included.

This is the second installment in Ms Thorland’s Renegades of the Revolution series. You do not have to read The Turncoat to appreciate The Rebel Pirate as it stands on its own, though its events take place in 1775, before the first book. There is one mysterious character that appears in both novels – an intriguing female spy known as the Merry Widow.

This is an entertaining, suspenseful, and romantic love story on the brink of revolution.

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