What is so damn sexy about pirates? I mean really. They are unkempt, filthy criminals who don’t exactly jump to the top of the list of groups of men most likely to shower a girl with romance. And yet…there is just *something* about a pirate.
When I saw that Beverly Jenkins newest novel was pirate novel I was both excited and skeptical. If a pirate is sexy, then a black pirate is doubly so. But how can Jenkins write a believable black pirate, especially in a story set in 1778? Or a believable black heroine in a pirate story? Who is this black man who captains his own ship? Who is this genteel black American woman who will resist but eventually succumb the advances of the scoundrel?
Captured works so well in part because of its historical accuracy. While I’m a huge Jenkins fan, the historical accuracy of her works is typically not what moves me. The history lessons she offers in her work–about New Orleans creoles, about the debates concerning racial uplift at the turn of the century, about the underground railroad–are never new information for me. I enjoy her stories because of the way she brings those events to life through vividly drawn, engaging characters. But the historical accuracy here is what sold me. Our hero, Dominic LeVeq (ancestor of the LeVeq men featured in Through the Storm and Winds of the Storm) is the son of a French nobleman and a former slave from Martinique. Dominic has taken over his father’s ship after his death and will, because of machinations of the plot I won’t give away, turn to piracy to make his living.
Clare is an American slave, traveling with the people who have enslaved her when they come across Dom’s ship. Clare has been educated alongside a white woman of the same age, and so speaks several languages, has impeccable manners, and intense sense of virtue. Dom takes her aboard his ship because he wants her to know freedom. The reasons she resists that freedom are myriad and provide for great drama.
Both of these characters were believable to me, even before I got to the end and saw Jenkins’ customary bibliography and explanation demonstrating the veracity of her tale. She made me believe that black people in 1778 might conceivably find themselves in this situation. I was then free to enjoy the rest of the story.
And what a story it is. Jenkins’ novels are almost always about the seduction of an innocent. The hero introduces and seduces the heroine into the pleasures of sex and leisure and equality in a relationship. This one is no different, except that the seduction of Clare, who has lived her entire life as a slave, is especially sweet. Certainly the sex scenes and the prelude to the sex scenes are delicious. But the promises he makes to care of her are equally erotic. At one point, before they consummate their relationship, he tells her:
I’ll feed you mangoes and guavas, and place blooms behind your ear that are more fragrant than perfume. You won’t have to worry about fetching slippers or fires or cocoa unless it is for your own benefit…. I can’t wait to get you home.”
Really, this book is worth reading for the bath scenes alone.
When he does get her home and all the obstacles to their happiness become clear, the story becomes riveting. I promise you won’t be able to put the book down until you assured that everything will turn out the way it should.
What Doesn’t Work
What doesn’t work in this novel has very little to do with this novel and everything to do with my knowledge of black history. Reading about the fictional black towns in Jenkins work or the black island community in this novel, I can’t help but feel that the happy ending is bittersweet. I know what happens to those utopian spaces blacks built for themselves in the 18th and 19th centuries. It makes me sad to think as hard as Clare and Dom will work in this book to create a safe community where people can be free, it will nonetheless be near impossible for them to hang on to that space. But again, that it not at all a failing of this novel as much as it is a result of the melancholy I brought with me to the book.
To conclude, if you haven’t read this book yet, you’re definitely missing out.