Top critical review
Probably just as well this book is out of print
on April 26, 2016
The amount of five-star reviews (even four-star reviews) for this book is mind-boggling. I first read it back in 2004, when I was in my late teens, and probably would have given it three stars back then. These days I am not even that forgiving, and upon giving it a reread out of sheer curiosity, I'm forced to give it a two.
As others have pointed out, the title is misleading, as the hero is, in fact, an EX-pirate. It's not a good sign when a book starts lying to you before the first page, even.
The story could have been an interesting tale of a girl falling for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks (and said guy trying to atone for the past mistakes that landed him on the wrong side of the tracks in the first place), but unfortunately it never really delivers. The setting is pleasantly swashbuckly and the plot and pacing is generally good, but the characterizations are all over the place, and the actual romance—as in, the emotional development between the hero and heroine—leaves a lot to be desired. They fall in love not so much because it makes sense, character-wise, but because story conventions demand it. She is the heroine and he is the hero, so thus, they must get together. And since this is YA, we don't even get lust masquerading as love, as so many adult romances can claim to their dubious benefit. Oh, sure, the heroine checks out the hero's abs and chest more often than she probably should, but mostly she falls in love with him because...well...she just does, simple as that. Same goes for the hero—there's a bit of physical attraction on his end, but that's about it. A classic case of "telling, not showing" if there ever was one.
As for the characters themselves, well, "Mary Sue" is a term that admittedly gets thrown around too liberally these days (usually aimed at any female character who dares to be the protagonist), but Catherine really is quite Sue-ish: her only flaw is that she's flawless. She comes off less like a real and believable person, and more like the author just created a physical frame and piled a bunch of "awesome" attributes on top of it. She's a tomboyish bad*ss yet she's also a demure, proper lady! She knows more about wounds and infection than even the ship's medic (because she's previously played veterinarian's assistant in the barns, naturally)! She knows enough about carpentry to casually help with ship repair! She's so good with an 18th century pistol (weapons not exactly known for their accuracy) that she can shoot guns right out of the villains' hands! And all this, despite the fact that she's basically American aristocracy!
Derrick, the hero, fares a little better, often coming across as a blissful voice of reason in a story gone mad, but even he suffers bizarre, oscillating shifts in character. It's almost as if the author outlined the book with him as a serious, broody ex-criminal set on atonement, but when the time came to actually write it, wanted to instead make him a grinning, roguish pseudo-rake. One particularly laughable part describes him as flashing a "rare smile," despite the fact that he's been flashing smiles and grins the entire scene.
On top of all that, the language is distractingly modern, both in tone and actual word choices, and Catherine in particular is irritatingly modern in her sensibilities, what with her "I don't need no man" attitude and her constant angsting that she's too young and unworldly for her brother's best friend to be at all interested in her. (Yeah, never mind the fact that he's trying to protect your reputation since he's, you know, an EX-CRIMINAL.) There's also an uncomfortable Madonna/wh*re complex that seems to permeate the book. Catherine, of course, can do no wrong, and is in fact compared to multiple characters' mothers at times, but whenever another female character dares to enter the narrative? Sl*tty b*tches, all of them. It's the sort of thing I could forgive in a romance novel written in the 1970s, but this was written/published in 2002, and the author should have known better. 21st century feminism: this ain't how you do it. And it sure as heck isn't the sort of thing I'd want an impressionable teenage girl exposed to—not with all the other toxic misogyny that bombards mass media.
Last but not least, technical errors abound. Numerous typos, forgotten words, inconsistent dialects, an inconsistent TIMELINE (did Royce hire Derrick four years ago or promote him to lead captain four years ago? how could Derrick's father have been judged to be a traitor to the country before the United States even EXISTED as a country? etc.), a case where one character is actually referred to by the wrong name, and then there's the fact that the author clearly needs to learn when to start a new paragraph (as in, she does it far, FAR more often than she should). There are also seemingly important details that get brought up only to be promptly forgotten about, and multiple times the author seems to brain-fart and forget what her characters are doing and/or have done, such as when Catherine throws a hat on her bed only to find said hat in her closet two sentences later. The cumulative effect of all of this is that the book reads as half-baked, more of a rough first draft than a finished product.
So yeah, the relatively solid plot, decent pacing, and character potential save this from being a one-star story, but I can't in good conscience rate it any higher than a two. It's a "clean" romance in the respect that there's no sex, but if you're looking for something to give to a teen (or even to read, yourself), you can do far better than this insipid dreck.