The Creole Princess is the second book in Beth White’s Gulf Coast Chronicles, and is again set primarily in Mobile, Alabama. It is 1776 and Mobile, now controlled by the British, is home to the Creole descendants of the Lanier brothers, their wives and many of their contemporaries from book one, The Pelican Bride (review). Among them is Lyse Lanier, the child of a freed slave and the grandson of both Lanier brothers, and her best friend Daisy Redmond, daughter of the local British garrison’s commander.
Lyse lives a hard-scrabble life, helping to provide for her young half-siblings in spite of her drunken father. Into her path saunters a foppish young Spaniard, Don Rafael Gonzalez. Set against the backdrop of the growing tensions around the American Revolution, they meet and eventually fall in love, but not without great lengths of time between meetings. These are increasingly uncertain times, with loyalties in question and danger lurking at every turn. Is the Spanish really just a dandified merchant? Does Rafa love Lyse, or is he using her? Will Daisy and Simon Lanier, Lyse’s brother, ever be able to court openly?
Rafa immediately gives off a Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro vibe of the falsely foppish nobleman. It comes as no surprise when the reader finally learns that there is more to him than the shallow, musical fool. Lyse is a delightful character, she begins as a girl at their first meeting and grows into an even more confident young woman who is grounded in her faith. Being, as she puts it, not-white and not-black, she bears the prejudices she meets with grace. And showing even greater grace and depths of faith is her cousin, Scarlet, who was born into slavery. Hers is one of the subplots that is touching, gratifying and still somehow unsatisfying in this novel.
That sense of being unsatisfied, due to less than perfect resolution, is part of what lends the story some of its authenticity. The author does not impose modern morality on the characters, but allows events to happen (or not) as they most likely would have given the moral and social climate of the times.
The Creole Princess is, like The Pelican Bride, more than just a Christian romance novel. It is an exploration of a time in political history that delves into the social stratas, inequalities, prejudices and injustices, highlighting the differing circumstances of characters, even within a family, due to accidents of birth. It is the sense of actual history unfolding, authentically, that provides the greatest depth to this story. As in the first volume, the political machinations help drive the plot forward and provide the reader with an education in some lesser known aspects of regional American history. All without seeming like a history lesson, which is one of Beth White’s greatest strengths as an author. Another strength is in the complexity of the multi-layering of sub-plots that the author handles so well. Though one of my chief complaints is the convoluted nature of the Lanier’s family tree, which was a bit confusing at first and is never completely clear.
Following the novel is approximately 8 pages of the third Gulf Coast Chronicles novel, The Duchess of Navy Cove (note: as the publication of Book 3 approaches, it has been renamed The Magnolia Duchess).
3.5 out of 5 stars. While not quite as interesting and enjoyable as The Pelican Bride, still an entertaining and well written historical novel.
The Creole Princess by Beth White (Gulf Coast Chronicles, #2) | Revell, 2015 | ebook, 352 pages
This review refers to an e-galley read courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.