Based on the real characters and events and one date late in the book of 1813, it is set in the early 19th century in Alta California, the waters off the coast and in Mexico. It begins as Alitha Bradford is traveling with her father on his ship from Boston to California with the intention of sailing on to the Sandwich Islands where she is to wed her betrothed, Thomas, who is a missionary. As they leave Valparaiso, she sees a handsome American captain standing on the deck of his ship. She will only learn later he is Jordan Quinn.
Off the coast of California, Alitha’s father’s ship, struck with cholera, goes down in a storm and Alitha ends up stranded on a coastal island with a young Indian boy who saves them both.
Meanwhile, Jordan Quinn, the Irish American captain of the Kerry Dancer out of Portsmouth, sails to Santa Barbara to wed the beautiful Margarita Mendoza. When the wedding is delayed, Jordan steals away with Margarita aboard his ship—only to be accosted by pirates, led by the Frenchman Bouchard.
Alitha, having been taken captive by a tribe of Indians, is rescued by Esteban Mendoza, Margarita’s brother, and taken to his hacienda where Jordan shows up in a trade of captives by the pirates. When Esteban and Alitha travel to Mexico, Jordan goes too, but with a hidden agenda. To round out the players, Alitha’s betrothed, Thomas will come to California, looking for her.
This is a well-told, absorbing saga of early California bringing in all the cultural elements: the Californios, the Padres, the Indians and the Americans (who have designs on the land0. And, lest I forget, there are pirates. The scenes on the ships are very well described, and the characters well developed.
I could not put this one down, wondering what next would happen next and if Alitha would wise up about her future with Mendoza and make a good choice. Still, it’s not for every reader of romance as there is violence aplenty, even rape, which for pirates would have been the norm. And the heroine, a spirited but in some ways naïve young woman, goes on a major detour with Mendoza who takes advantage of her innocence.
But I recommend it and would read more by this author.