July 29, 2016
"Well, we dig dig dig
Well, we dig in our mine the whole day through...
It's off to work we go
We keep on singing all day long
Heigh-ho" - Snow White, Disney
Once upon a time Mary Jo Putney wrote one of my alllll time favorite books - The Rake -
Plain speaking. I had a hard time finishing this book. It started out promising. There is the requisite set-up for future books in the series. We get to meet a number of men who just scream "hero." They are in a prison awaiting execution set for the next day. While imprisoned, they have a "I would do this if I were to live" moment. Well, as luck would have it, our intrepid hero Will Masterson finds a way out of the prison, and they all escape. They separate, but vow to always keep in contact with each other. I enjoyed this set-up and I was very much interested in reading Will's story - but it went downhill from there.
Napoleon has just been sent to Elba and the war seems to be over. The troops are returning to their homelands, hoping that everything hasn't been destroyed in the process of Napoleon's march to conquer all. Major Lord Will Masterson, our hero, wants to return home; but before he can, he is sent on a mission by one of the guys from the prison. He is assigned a regiment of soldiers from the little kingdom of San Gabriel. He is to return with them to their country and report on the conditions of San Gabriel. It seems that Great Britain will help out this little country if it has been devastated by Napoleon's trampling through. I guess Great Britain wouldn't have its own financial problems at the time and they could help restore little San Gabriel. Anyway, Will leads San Gabriel's sons back home - at least some of them. When he arrives in San Gabriel he finds destruction, he also finds that the ruling monarch and the monarch's heir have been taken captive or killed or something. Anyway, the king and his son are missing, and they have left the throne in the arms of a regent with Alzheimer’s and an underage princess. But do not fear my little Petunia's, for you see San Gabriel has been saved by the amazonian illegitimate English woman - Athena Markham. Athena has been Princess Sophia's friend and advisor for a long time - Amazon Athena is also our heroine.
Well, Will and Amazon Athena are attracted to each other right away, but before they can really connect there must be the traditional San Gabriel welcome home feast and celebration with music, cheese and Sangria. The Sangria is the best in all Europe, made right here in little San Gabriel. Their wine is better!
Will and Athena wiggle their eyebrows at each other, but before they can go any further Will must call a city council meeting and listen to boring talks on how to rebuild San Gabriel. He must ponder Great Britain's role in rebuilding San Gabriel - and there is the wine to consider.
Will and Athena gaze into each others eyes, then because Will was an engineer he goes off to the town's waterwheel and with the help of the ex-soldier's they rebuild it. While they are there they have a look at the river - you just never know when you may need to widen a river. After-all you may need to ship wine up/down that river.
Will and Athena touch each other, then they talk about the production of wine. Athena tells Will she saved allllll of the towns wine by putting it in some caves and then sealing the caves. Will must look at the caves, he is an engineer after all.
Will and Athena smile at each other, but then Will decides to rebuild the bridge. Will and the ex-soldiers of San Gabriel rebuild the towns bridge, then they celebrate with wine and cheese. Will's hairs on the back of his neck are twitching.
Will looks at the destroyed vineyards. Why, he has a friend whose family owns vineyards, just over in the next country, over the hills, over the mountains, over the rivers. He sends for his friend Justin. Justin brings saplings. Justin gazes at Princess Sophia, Sophia gazes at Justin - oh dear it's the Princess falling for a commoner plot. It's also a secondary romance thrown in at a time when the main romance isn't working. Why isn't it working? Because it's time for Will to plant some saplings. Will's neck is still twitching.
Justin mentions Will is a lord. Athena throws a hissy fit because she hatessssss all nobles. She goes off in a huff, they reconcile. But Athena knows she is not good enough for Will. Will's neck says something is wrong. Athena and Will have some wine and cheese - San Gabriel's wine is the bestest.
Will and Athena talk. Will and Amazon Athena blow up the sealed caves. The wine is saved!!! Now, the little town can prosper!! But first let's have some wine and cheese. Hey, let's go on a picnic!! And let's take some wine and cheese. Wait a minute, Will's having that pesky hair/neck problem again! And, it's not from all the wine and cheese - it's from some remnants of the French army. After a brief kerfuffle with some renegade French soldiers we find out there's a plan afoot to invade San Gabriel. The evilllll French commander plans to marry Princess Sophia and get the wine - not necessarily in that order. Will, Athena, Justin and Sophia must come up with a plan to stop hundreds of French soldiers from invading their little city. Picnic over!
Will and Athena do the whankee-roo. Farewell my love, I must be off to blow up the mountain and stop the invading French. I must gather the townsfolk and do some more talking. Even being outnumbered a gazillion to one, Will defeats the nefarious French wine pilferer.
There is more celebration! Break out the wine and cheese!! Welcome the missing king and heir back!!! More wine!! More cheese!!! Justin gets the thumbs up to court the Princess becausssseeee he can make wine!!! Will overcomes Athena's "I can't marry you" routine. They all have some wine and cheese. The end.
Sign. I could not connect with this story. After reading page after page of lessons on "how to rebuild a city destroyed by war," I could feel my eyes glazing over. There wasn't any chemistry between Will and Athena. Too much of the storytelling was spent on other things and not on the romance. This could have been a travelogue book on wine country. Big disappointment.
Time/Place: After the first defeat of Napoleon, San Gabriel (it doesn't exist)