Author Darlene Marshall created quite a challenge for me as a reader within the pages of her latest title Castaway Dreams. While the story falls within the Regency era, much of the action is far removed from the comfortable drawing rooms and society of Regency London that I'm used to. This change of scenery was quite enjoyable, as were other parts of the story: a strong male lead character, a romance upon a deserted island, pirates and battles upon the high seas. Unfortunately, for all the strong elements that Ms. Marshall created, it was tempered by my aversion to a female lead character that was immature, frivolous, and hard to empathize with.
We meet our heroine on a cross-Atlantic voyage from Jamaica to England. Miss Daphne Farnham was formerly a toast of the ton, but now she is the scandal of the season due to a failed elopement. As we initially see her through our hero's eyes there is very little of value about her, with her overly pink wardrobe and a purse-dog. When the point of view changes to her own, another side of Daphne is revealed as a woman with a lust for life. The extravagance of her lifestyle and some of her personal choices are just her embracing that emotion. She cannot fathom why Alexander is curt with her during their disastrous first meetings. During a discussion about how Alex is used to consorting with “useful” people, she shares her own unique skills with him, only to be hurt and shamed when he calls her useless.
Alexander Murray isn't a Lord, isn't rich and isn't a darling of any ballroom within London. He's a man who makes his living as a surgeon within the ranks of the Royal Navy, with the hardships of service taking their toll and causing him to age beyond his years. Alexander has a lower class upbringing and everything that Alexander has is due to his intelligence and his drive to succeed. He never allows his passions to dictate his actions and his Black-and-White views on society give him very little patience for women like Daphne who seem to exist only to please themselves. When they are thrown together by fate, first as companions on the ship, then as the sole survivors of a shipwreck, Alexander is sure that he is being punished as he feels that Daphne is far below him in intellect and will be more of a burden than helpful.
Castaway Dreams works with such an unrelatable heroine because Alexander (and by extension, the reader) allows Daphne the opportunity to shine. All of the strengths of character we want to see are lying dormant within her, and the challenges she faces on the island give her the chance to learn, to adapt, and to grow as a woman. I came to like Daphne's enthusiasm to learn survival skills like fishing, starting a fire and proving herself on many occasions. Small changes in her character built to a point where I found myself rooting for Daphne when she could do something better than Alex and she was the steady one as he temporarily lost control. Alexander too must become more than what he was at the beginning of his voyage; allowing someone to get close to him emotionally and accepting that people who may be his opposite carry as much value as he puts on hard workers like himself.
The story itself was charming, but I did find myself thinking that everything came just a bit too easily for Alexander and Daphne. When they are stranded together they are pushed from their comfort zone, but they never face real threats to their survival. The pirates they meet after their rescue are more a merry band of men rather than cut-throats. One of the major stumbling blocks to Alex and Daphne being together upon their return to England is quickly resolved with an almost fairy-tale like solution. However, watching these characters overcome the challenges in both circumstance and personality to fall in love kept me turning the pages.
~Reviewed by Sara Anne Elliott