So part of me really hesitated to put the Bastion Club on my list of series for my rereading project because I knew Captain Jack's Woman was technically the prequel to the series and therefore, under my own rules, I'd have to read it.
I have read this book exactly once. I had just discovered Stephanie Laurens' Cynster novels and liked them enough to start seeking out her backlist. I ordered this book, I read it, and then put it on my shelf. For an idea of what kind of book this is, I show you the cover on my physical copy: I don't think that's Fabio, but that's definitely who they were trying to mimic.
The cover I'm using for this review comes from a rebranding of the entire series -- all the Bastion Club novels have this style. Goodreads tells me it's from a reissue by Avon in 2014, so I guess I'll take their word for it.
But that original cover and its follow up tells you everything you need to know about why this is one of my least favorite books of all time.
But since I plan to spend most of this review ranting, I want to start with what I liked, because I did give it 2 stars and not 1.
George Smeaton is a supporting character and I want to cuddle him. His relationship with Amy, Kit's best friend, has very little time on the page, and may seem old-fashioned, restrictive, and less wild, but it's very clear they respect and love one another, and that their relationship works for them. He is the only male in this entire book I don't want to set on fire. I want to read a book just about George Smeaton. He is the highlight of any scene and when he has a conversation with the hero late in the book, you are active cheering for him because he is the only man with any sense in the whole damn thing.
I also like that Kit never, ever, hides that she is completely insane and impulsive. She is a woman who makes no sense and never attempts to. She's a wild hoyden who is also completely accepted by local society. There's a weird subplot in which she's been lied to and manipulated away by aunts and uncles wanting to use her for their own ends, but it's just to explain why she hasn't been in Norfolk for the last six years. None of it ever remotely relevant or interesting, and is actually...mostly stupid. She falls in with smugglers her first week back and is apparently so good that Jack wants her help in uniting his gang with hers. (We'll...get to that.)
My point is that Kit never hid that she is completely insane and impulsive, and literally, there's nothing about her that Jack actually seems to like. Except her looks. He's a fan of the bosom and the hair. And the eyes. (Kit's got violet eyes, y'all).
So, I like that Kit is crazy AF and that George is a great guy.
Um...that's actually it. That's really all that I like.
There are couple of tropes and issues that I'm not going to criticize. This is a book published in 1997, and without much exception, most of my favorite historical novels from this period and earlier have the same issues. I'm not also not going to judge the strength of the characters. When I do the whole Bastion Club review, I'll remark on it, but it's not something I hold against the books. When you pick up a Stephanie Laurens book, you know exactly what you're getting and shame on you if you keep reading her, expecting something different.
What I am going to criticize is the way this book doesn't hang together. I like smuggling as a trope because it gives you ready-made conflict and possibilities for danger. This plot doesn't make a lot of sense, and by the time I did understand what was happening, I didn't care anymore. Also, even then -- it doesn't make sense. I don't believe Kit would be adopted by a small smuggling ring this way, I don't understand the Captain Jack reference as a backstory and the way it's tossed around like I'm supposed to think it's impressive.
There is no romance in this book worth paying attention to. Jack has the makings of a typical Laurens hero, but he's worse. He's actively a misogynist in a way that Cynsters and later male leads just aren't. He constantly berates Kit and underestimates her because she's a woman. There are more specifics here, but basically Jack knows EXACTLY who Kit is (INSANE AF) and then criticizes her for all those reasons. We'll get into the details in the spoiler section.
So, yeah, Kit is insane and kind of entertaining in her complete lack of maturity and DGAF attitude towards everything, including her own life. She gets neutered by the end, but there's that. And George is lovely. I don't want him for Kit, I wanted a better characterization of Amy. But George loves her, so yay, for George and Amy!
Lord help me. Where to start with this? First. I don't buy a for a second that these people wouldn't know who one another is until the middle of the book. Kit talks about not having lived in the area for six years, and Jack is returning from service in the wars. Fine. I think Jack is around 35, Kit is 22. This means he was about 13 when she was born. Let's be generous and say he was 18 when he went to war--making her five.
There is no way on God's green Earth that Jack, as the heir to a major landowner in the world, did not know that the son of another local landowner (who probably wasn't more than a decade older than him) married legitimately and had a child. We get a long backstory of Kit's childhood and that she's lived there her whole life. There's no way Jack didn't know that Spencer Cranmer had a legitimate granddaughter.
I can't take their romance seriously because it's built on mistaken identities that I don't believe would have been possible. At some point, Jack knows Kit is a Cranmer because she looks like Spencer. After that, he's just an idiot.
He's also a major asshole. Let's discuss.
First, he immediately wants to have sex with Kit. Fine, I can live with that. He's kind of confused because he wants to sex her up before he knows she's a woman and that's definitely okay. He also describes himself as sex-starved. Swoon, right? He also constantly refers to himself as a rake. Constantly. *sighs...and not in happiness*
Once he knows she's a woman, he starts planning to set her up as his mistress and pretty much takes her acceptance for granted because Kit's not good at hiding her interest in him. He never once considers she's not a virgin because she's a bastard (who...lives with her grandfather openly but whom he's never heard of so...yeah). To the point that they are in the middle of the sexing, and she has to beg him to take her virginity. I told you, it was 1997. Times were different.
He screams at her to follow his orders, allows her to keep helping him get her smuggling gang under his control, but also disregards her clear talent and sidelines her as often as possible. He doesn't value any contribution she brings until he absolutely has to, and EVEN THEN it's begrudgingly. (We're getting to the worst offenses).
She gets herself shot saving his life, he brings her home, declares himself to her grandfather (And we're going to talk about that asshole briefly), HAS THE BANNS CALLED BEFORE KIT EVEN KNOWS THEY'RE GETTING MARRIED. Kit basically gets trapped into marriage, because what're you gonna do? And then Jack...is shocked that Kit isn't a complete moron and knows how to carry herself in society. He thought he'd have to help and instruct her more. (You're getting the gist.)
His first thought when he realizes they have to marry is that basically everything makes Kit Kit is going to have to change once she's Lady Hendon. FUCK THIS GUY.
He then refuses to let her ride her own horse without him -- WITHOUT TELLING HER. Kit finds out from their servants that he's done this because Jack abandons her and completely cuts her out of the smuggling ring entirely. When she does insert herself, she kills another man and saves Jack's life. Jack is irritated with her (she doesn't leave the man alive to get questions answered), and when she's having distress over the whole thing, he sexes her up, and then leaves her without a freaking word the next day.
Kit then learns that George knows what the actual mission is and when she finds a British spy (Anthony Blake whom we'll see later) Jack smuggled from France laid out on the beach, she saves his life, and says fuck this shit. She writes a note and leaves him.
It's at this point I was cheering because I had clearly forgotten how this is literally the last thing Kit does that I agree with.
Jack comes home, learns Kit has left, is READ TO FILTH by George (my hero) for being attracted to Kit's insane impulsive nature, marrying her, and then systematically destroying everything that makes her Kit. George is a goddamn national treasure and we should protect him with our lives.
Does Jack go get his wife, properly chastened, begging for forgiveness? Nope. He assumes she's at Cranmer Hall, LEAVES HER THERE FOR DAYS, and then accidentally learns nope, she's not there. She's fled to her London cousins, which Jack only learns after Amy accidentally telling him. Because Jack doesn't know jack shit about the woman he married.
He goes to London to fetch her, the cousin has already sent her on to a female friend because he doesn't want to deal with an angry husband while Kit is under his care. Great. You're a fucking peach. Go to hell. I hope you rot. He sends Jack on...and then we turn to Kit.
It turns out Kit didn't leave because she realized Jack was a massive asshole not worth her time. She didn't even pack a change of clothing beyond her breeches (which...she wore in public in London, so yeah...)
She did it to get Jack's attention.
And then does Jack actually apologize? Nope. He wordlessly fetches his wife, brings her to a dock, puts her on a ship, and all along the way--says nothing of note. Kit thinks she's being shipped off. Girl, RUN. You're better off, I promise you that. Jack finally explains himself--sort of--and then grudgingly agrees he should be, you know, nicer, but then gives her rules she needs to follow.
And she's happy. Because this is the dick she wants to marry, and I guess you'll up with a lot for a skilled penis.
Also, Kit's grandfather is a fucking idiot who doesn't deserve my rants in depth, so what other options does Kit have? I think I'm supposed to like Spencer. I don't.
The problem with this book is not Kit. I don't blame her in the end. Because the girl fought the good fight and got herself thrown into marriage to an asshole by an asshole. She attempted to leave and maybe she really meant it when she left--but then Jack didn't follow. And she had no choice but to capitulate because she's a woman in Regency Britain and everyone in her life has made it clear they're not going to stand by her.
Also, Jack literally kidnaps her three times during this story and no one blinks. This is basically a Stockholm Syndrome story. No one wins. There's no romance.
But there is George, and he's worth something. And Kit gets a star for trying.
God I hate this book.