The Bartered Bride
Mary Jo Putney
Ballantine, 2002 (2002)
Reviewed by Martina Bexte
n this latest book, Mary Jo Putney re-introduces us to Alexandra Melbourne, a young girl readers first met in
. Now a woman grown, a mother and a recent widow, Alex is looking forward to her and daughter Katie's return to England and their reunion with extended family. Barely into the journey their ship is attacked by East Indies pirates and mother and daughter brutally separated. Alex is sold into slavery on the island of Maduri and her daughter spirited away to a neighbouring island. Alex does not surrender meekly to her new life of servitude, degradation and separation from Katie. She is sold numerous times, each of her owners expecting a more obedient slave. She is about to be led to the auction block yet again when her path crosses that of successful American shipping merchant, Captain Gavin Elliot, summoned to Maduri to discuss trade deals with the island's ruling despot, Sultan Kasan.
avin Elliot detests slavery and cruelty of any sort. Witnessing such mistreatment of a kinswoman is even more abhorrent to him and he immediately offers to buy her. Sultan Kasan sees Alex as a perfect bargaining chip to secure the American Captain's cooperation and offers Gavin a choice - the only way to win Alex's freedom is to play the
, an ancient dice challenge. Gavin agrees, even though he knows one unfortunate throw might cost him his life. Gavin passes the first six tests with flying colours. When the seventh test requires him to '
worship the goddess
', their lives rest on this last most agonizing trial. When he succeeds, Alex and Gavin return as husband and wife to England, where they begin the complicated business of establishing trust and intimacy. Gavin also sets in motion his long-delayed goal of undoing his father's disgrace and re-establishing the Elliot name, but past enemies would rather see him fail.
ary Jo Putney has a genuine knack for whisking readers away to exotic locales and situations. She does so again in
The Bartered Bride
with her intriguing, yet purely fictional
. Adding pirates and island despots to her mix makes the first half of this book even more readable. Unfortunately, once Alex and Gavin return to England, Ms. Putney spends too much time re-introducing characters from previous stories to throw '
' balls. She might have used those scenes to further explore the horrors of what Alex endured, to examine how these events affected Alex and Gavin emotionally and how difficult it is to build a relationship on such a history. For an author who usually excels at exploring her characters' psyches, the latter half of this plot is hurried and predictable. Putney's fine writing style and meticulous research is still clearly evident, however, and die hard fans won't be disappointed.
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