Reading the first page of this novel, I knew I was in for something completely different. I admit to feeling wary. However, by the end of the third chapter, I was hooked. This tale, which begins in Madagascar in 1827 and ends in Rio de Janeiro in 1833, is adventurous, literate, and wickedly humorous from start to finish.
Count Tomaj Balashazy rescues a drowning, somewhat robust, damsel, Dagny Ravenhurst, from the lagoon at Mavasarona, his home port. Tomaj is a pirate (picture Jack Sparrow, cleaned up slightly) and local entrepreneur. Dagny is an American naturalist, come to Madagascar to study the exotic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. She has two “brothers” and a jealous patron. He has a crew of loyal eccentrics and a broken heart. Their attraction is immediate, and intense. But various emotional and political roadblocks take time to surmount.
Mercury has an outstanding vocabulary and knows how to use it. She conveys volumes with a few well-chosen words of dialogue, but is equally skilled at making longer, descriptive passages seem brilliant. Her characters gesture, move, and ultimately leap off the page and into the imagination. The sexual content verges on the pornographic, but it suits both the exotic locale and the unconventional characters. This is not your mother’s historical romance.