3.5 stars. Actually.
This book has lots of elements that I enjoy: a strong heroine who isn’t passive, a romance with a strapping privateer captain, voodoo magic, and the historical setting of Jamaica back in the day of sugar cane plantations.
There’s also an interestingly steamy scene with Arose and her love that because of her magic, was an interesting way to give the reader such a scene while preserving the innocence of their relationship.
However, for me, the book doesn’t quite deliver on some (possibly my own unfair) expectations. While Arose is quite sympathetic and fun and passionate, she’s also super powerful because of the Spirit of the Red Gem, but can’t seem to recognize the somewhat obvious danger of the voodoo priestess’s brother taking over her plantation? Also there’s a case of Arose searching desperately for a Captain St. James and not recognizing the quite obvious reality of who he is. (His ship is called Red Spirit, coincidence?) I wanted Arose to be smarter than she was.
I’m also a little overly sensitive to the possibility of cultural appropriation, I am well aware. I was excited about the voodoo priestess part of this book, as well as its cultural setting of a multi-cultural Jamaica. I may be betraying my own ignorance or reliance on stereotypes here, but I was a bit surprised by the dragon as well as feeling like the voodoo priestess’s powers weren’t quite linked to what I thought of as traditional Africa-influenced voodoo.
So all of the above is probably more of a matter of taste on my part, or too rigid expectations. There was one more thing that dropped it down half a star for me: the prose itself. There are lovely, lovely descriptions here. The author is particularly adept at describing the beauty of Jamaica skies and beaches. However. There’s quite a few sentence-level issues that every few pages slightly pushed me out of the story. Such as describing the hero as having a “clef” chin or sentences where comma placement was iffy like “She had sat in lotus position on the crest of a sand dune her, bright yellow chunari billowing in the wind.” Or tense issues such as here (the story is written all in past tense) “Her power lies in the symbiotic combination of both her wild heart and the Gem of the Red Spirit.”
There’s a quite dashing, passionate story here, but I felt it just didn’t quite emerge as the author perhaps desired.