Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics — a hit and a miss. This time, I’m kinda sorta maybe mostly undecided.
Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice
- Title: Moon Dreams
- Author: Patricia Rice
- Series: American Dreams, #1
- Published: January 1991; re-released February 2015
- Source: Purchased
- Length: 384 pages
- Tropes: Dimwit Runaway Innocent Ingenue, Illegitimacy-But-Not-Really (see “Back From the Dead” below), Evil Heirs, Kilted Kourage, Exotic Otherness, Cultural Appropriation, Fake Scottish Brogues, Cinderella Makeovers, Back From the Dead, Very Convenient Coincidences, Smuggler With a Heart of Gold, Actual Historical Name-Dropping, Metaphorical Metaphors
- Quick blurb: Illegitimate heiress runs away from her lecherous cousin and gets rescued by a Scottish smuggler obsessed with avenging his own family dishonor.
- Quick review: Stuffed with all the Old Schoolish WTFery you could ever possibly want.
- Grade: C- (it was a loooong slog up the Highlands in the last third to avoid a D+)
Firstly, let’s wallow in the original cover for a moment, shall we?
THE FLAMING PASSION OF TROPIC NIGHTS LIT LOVE’S GOLDEN DAWN
Are you done wallowing yet? Need a moment? Need an ointment of some sort?
So. I bought this one and the follow-up a few months ago when I was looking for some American-set historicals. Despite the series name, very little of this one was set in Colonial America. The happy couple bounced around the northern hemisphere and it was pretty exhausting trying to figure out how they manuevered all that Near-Sex and Actual Penetrative Sex and Hate-Sex into their year-long itinerary.
I’m going do a full recap to help you properly appreciate the Full Glory Old-Schooliness of this Epic Adventure. I haven’t gone full-snark in over a year, so buckle up and gird your loins and grab a snack.
Chapters 1-2 — Cornwall, Fall 1759
Reality was the cold gray mist soaking her woolen cloak and clinging to her lashes and mixing with a torrent of tears.
Our heroine Alyson (yes, really) Hampton has a dog named Peabody. I was highly encouraged about this, but, alas, poor Peabody is never heard from again.
Alyson is the orphaned illegitimate granddaughter of an earl. She has Secret Rendezvouses (?) with a neighbor guy who Promises Things In The Dark. These Promises In The Dark do not, alas, include marriage proposals. (But you probably already knew that.) Innocent Alyson realizes she must Grow Up and Open Her Eyes.
Alyson’s Beloved Grandfather dies and leaves all the unentailed property to Alyson (because of course he does).The Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir (aka The Macaroni, aka The Despicable Fiend), arrives and announces Alyson will marry him. She rebuffs his tender attentions by pouring boiling tea in his lap.
Alyson’s only recourse, of course, is to Run Away. In the middle of the night. In a maid’s dress with a horse blanket for a cloak.
Angels and half-wits and kidnappers all in a night strained credulity,
We meet our hero, Rory Douglas Maclean, of the disgraced Jacobite Macleans, as he’s scratching a flea bite in his armpit. No, really. I did not make that up.
Rory’s smuggling ship lands in Cornwall and he takes the mail coach to London because…IDK, we just need to move the plot along here. He’s squashed between an obese woman who is so fat she couldn’t possibly be raped (no, really) and a skinny shrewish spinster. On the opposite seat is a Mysterious Waif who reads books and smells like the “barely perceptible evergreen scent of heather in the springtime.” That, and horses because of the whole horse blanket as cloak thing. The book-reading heather-smelling waif has smooth white hands.
En route, Rory foils the kidnapping of our smooth-handed, horse-blanked-yet-heather-smelling waifish heroine. Because of course he does. The kidnappers take the skinny shrewish spinster instead.
Our heroine is enchanted by our hero’s rolling Scottish R’s. We learn our heroine is half-Scottish because of course she is.
Rory just doesna ken. He just doesna. But he is very hungry.
Rory opened the napkin, and the scent of pickled salmon hit him. With wonder he sampled the rest of the fare, each discovery bringing another enraptured cry. “Bannocks! Ach, my bonny lassie, do ye not know what I would give for fresh bannocks? And spelding? It’s been years….” His ecstasy disappeared in the mouthful of bread and fish he deposited between his grateful lips.
So. Food metaphor as sex foreshadowing, amirite?
Anyway. Alyson tells this complete stranger her entire life story because she can totally trust him because he’s The Maclean.
Chapter 4 — February 1760
Alyson smiled. The Maclean was looking at her as if he couldn’t decide whether to eat her or strangle her, but she felt confident he would do neither. He really was a nice man for all that he tried to be an irascible curmudgeon.
Rory hires a chaise and horses and they somehow make it to London without having Actual Penetrative Sex or even Near Sex. However, he is “stunned to the state of shock by the force of her devastating smile.” But, alas, he must part from the only angel heaven would ever send to him. He leaves her with his aunt, who, of course, is a Dear Old Friend of Alyson’s Kindly London Solicitor.
Makeover time! Dress porn, powdered wig with fat sausage curls, blah, blah, blah.
The innocent cherub who had slept in his arms had become a much more worldy angel in satin and bows, but to Rory she still appeared to have wings and a halo. Where before she had been all heather and mint, now she was the sparkling, crystalline drifts of Ben Nevis in winter.
So, remember: Alyson is still an innocent angel. This is important because this is an Old School Romance.
“No kissing?” Alyson stared at him in wonder. “But kissing is so very pleasant. Who should anyone be denied it?”
Cranville [our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir] studied the pale nape of Alyson’s neck. It was a very fragile neck, topped by a thick cloud of ebony tresses. It wouldn’t take any effort at all to snap it, but he doubted that a murderer could inherit his victim’s wealth. It was the money he wanted, after all.
Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) challenges our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir to a duel because of course he does.
Alyson is upset. So she runs away. In the middle of the night. Again. Because of course she does. She’s a Dimwit Innocent Ingenue, remember? Also, it’s very foggy out. Because London is always foggy.
She’s kidnapped. Again.
Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) just happens to saunter into the the very same slimy Bishopsgate tavern where the Half-Wit Henchman have taken their prize. Because OF COURSE HE DOES.
Rory tricks the Half-Wit Henchmen into bringing Alyson to his smuggling ship (with only one sword-slit throat along the way), and the Sea Witch escapes into the storm-tossed Atlantic.
“I have always wanted to sail on a ship. Can I go up and see the sails?”
Imprisoned Alyson (no sails for her) befriends the cabin boy and the cranky ship’s cook and bakes bread in her undies. Somewhere in here Rory is knocked senseless by…something…and she sees his naked torso and touches his forehead and has tingly feelings in her ladybits.
Rory recovers and yells at her for being a dimwit without the sense that God gave a goose and she gets all weepy that he doesn’t respect her and ruffled feathers waaah waaah waaah.
They’re forced to share a cabin and there’s some awkward moments changing clothes and whatever Insta-Boner #377 yada yada yada.
Chapter 9-10 – Charleston, Spring 1760
Land ho. Her hair is frothing and he gets Insta-Boner # 417 whilst imagining releasing the wild ecstasy behind her demure features.
She runs away. Again. (OH MY GOD REALLY WTF BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE)
She finds her way to an attorney in hopes of contacting her Kindly London Solicitor. But guess what? The Charleston attorney is besties with The Maclean’s man of business! Who’da thunk it, amirite?
Reunited! And It Feels So Good! (sorry, couldn’t resist)
They finally kiss. Breasts full of promise (hers). Aching loins (his). He apologizes and she gets all huffy.
“If the moon is what leads a man to madness, I’ll be certain to lead all my suitors down the garden path in its light. Then they shall be as mad as they think I am, and I can choose the one who kisses me best.”
With a flounce of her skirts, she fled back to the house.
Alyson hangs in Charleston while Rory sails off to do his smuggling thing. She has lots of beaux and buys lots of new clothes because that’s what Runaway Dimwit Innocent Ingenues do.
Until…our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir shows up, having somehow figured out exactly where in all of the Eastern Seaboard she was hiding. She gets tricked into boarding his ship.
ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?
Alyson escapes from her captors and makes it to the deck. She spies — WAIT FOR IT — Rory’s ship just pulling into the harbor.
NO, REALLY. I am not making this up.
So. What’s an Abducted Dimwit Innocent Ingenue to do? She takes off her petticoat and waves it around and drops it into the harbor to get Rory’s attention.
It totally works.
“Jump, Alys, jump!” he shouted as the dinghy lowered into the water.
“I can’t swim!” she wailed, glancing over her shoulder.
He saves her, he yells at her, she tries to flounce in her water-logged gown, etc., etc., etc.
Rory stood there in his sodden clothes contemplating the insane but enchanting pixie who had danced into his life one fair morn….
Feeling as if he had lost complete control of the situation, Rory surrendered. Since he had met his personal angel, he had been held up by highwaymen, challenged an earl to a duel, killed a kidnapper, and fired on a British merchant. He was down to his last three decent shirts and one of those was clinging clammily to his shoulders right now. He was better off when he courted the devil, despite the fact that Alyson looked more delicious in a blanket and dripping ringlets than any other woman on the planet.
She changes clothes, he sees her boobs, Insta-Boner #818. Storm-clouded eyes, passions of a royal hellion, sweetness and tartness, etc., etc., etc.
More boobs. More boners. He makes her wear the cabin boy’s breeches and stares at her arse. You are not surprised.
But now you will be surprised, because SURPRISE!
“You have the Sight, don’t you?”
Yes, really. Half-Scottish Alyson has second sight. Because OF COURSE SHE DOES. Just like her mother and grandmother who were shunned as witches.
That was the beauty of Alyson’s deception. For years she had been convincing people of her half-wittedness with her vague habits, when in truth she had just adapted to the behavior expected of her, the one that explained her strangeness to everyone’s satisfaction.
So, you see, she’s not really a dimwit. She’s just…special.
I could really use Peabody the terrier right about now.
Chapters 15-16 – a deserted island in the Caribbean (yes, really)
Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) machetes his way through an isolated lagoon. Our almost-happy couple gets naked separately to bathe. Because while Alyson is no longer a dimwit, she is still an Innocent Ingenue.
BUT NOT FOR LONG.
He tells her his sob story (1745 Jacobite rebellion, everything lost, boohoo), she comforts him, he gets a boner.
“Ach lass, I’ll take ye, will ye, nill ye, if we do not return to the ship now. There is time yet to do this with a little more ceremony,”
They return to the beach, where a Raucous Pagan Pirate Party is going on. He hand-feeds her tempting nuggets from a bowl of fruit. I don’t think that’s a metaphor, but you never know. However, she does get hot moisture in her nether parts.
They dance on the beach as the bonfire flames grow higher. I think that is a metaphor.
But what about that “ceremony” mentioned above, you ask? You shouldn’t have asked.
You’ll want to read this next bit with one eye closed and a full-on headtilt.
One of the crewmen, a giant African, had apparently been selected as spokesman, and he stood blocking their entrance into the circle. For some odd reason, the men behind him were waving a worn-out broom from the ship’s galley.
Yeah. Not making this up.
BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE. The Giant African has a Big Knife.
With further intonations, the African rubbed their bleeding palms together, and Rory’s fingers twined around hers. Their blood mixed and flowed into each other, and Alyson felt the completeness of this joining as her legs threatened to give way beneath her.
Something’s giving way over here, and it’s not my legs.
Rory hauls her off into the rainforest again and promises are pulled from the wind and carried on moonbeams. You think I just made that up but I totally didn’t.
So. The deflowering in the jungle is all about the music metaphors.
It was as if his body was the bow and hers was the string. He played her sweetly first, testing the notes, refining the tension until she quivered beneath his touch….
His fingers played across her skin….brought her closer to the crescendo he sought.
…Alyson’s wild cry as Rory entered her rang through the jungle, at one with the call of the other creatures around them. [NOTE: WHAT THE HELL NO NO NO NO NO where is that ointment]
…She only knew Rory had pulled her strings taut as he drew himself back and forth, and the music reached its height.
A crescendo built so that she could no longer control her own movements. The pulsing beat carried her away, rolling over her in wave after wave of pleasure.
Before you give in to the crescendoing swoon: He didn’t pull out. This is important later in the story.
Rory saves the virginal-blood-stained satin…something…they had sex on and wraps it around himself.
“I should have a flag made of this.”
Could ANYTHING be more Old-School Romance than that? I think not.
Chapters 17-18 — Barbados, August 1760
We’re only at 44%. Still with me?
So they pull up into Barbados. She marvels at the bright colors in the garb of the island inhabitants, but apparently fails to notice shackles or branding or other distasteful slavery-type things.
Instead, she spies a Tarted-Up Tart in pink pouring from a fancy carriage. And she gets a Sight. In her third eye, she sees the Pink Canary having sex with Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean).
Naturally, our Deflowered Ingenue gets upset about this (she barfs over the rail of the Sea Witch). So — WAIT FOR IT — she runs away.
Because OF COURSE SHE DOES.
She somehow finds her way to a kindly lady (because of course she does). This family just happens to be besties with the Governor of Barbados, who just happens to be in cahoots with smugglers like Rory Douglas Maclean.
Our hero and heroine meet up at a ball and she runs away again. Yes, that’s twice in one chapter. I am still not making this up.
He corners her (in his own bedroom, for the love of god do not ask) and declares that her choices are to (a) marry him in truth in front of God and All Of Barbados Except the Africans or (b) get hauled off to prison because she stole money from him about seventeen chapters ago and wrote him an IOU and he’s going to call it in.
This, apparently, is the Black Moment.
There’s a lot of crying and flouncing and they get married but she’s still totally miffed at him.
Somewhere in here, her long-dead father shows up. And the Evil Heir is on his way because he has a GPS tracker on them or something.
Rory’s excellent plan of action to escape the Evil Heir involves booking passage on an Actual Pirate Ship. This pirate ship is a piece of shit that falls apart at the first flash of lightning and they founder on the coast of…somewhere…and there’s a mutiny and Rory must punch Alyson in the face to knock her out so she won’t get raped and he’s sorry he didn’t just go ahead and kill her to save her from the pirates.
Rory drags his unconscious bride to the deck of the pirate ship (after the mutiny is over, of course) and lo and behold, the Evil Heir. Who was following the chemtrails. Or something.
Chapters 22-24 — London, Fall 1760
These two really get around.
Back in England, Rory is taken away in chains but Alyson gets him freed on bond and she has another Vision of Doom and he refuses to use her money and they snub each other in the hallways. This goes on for weeks.
Rory befriends Samuel Johnson at a party. Yes, the dictionary-guy Samuel Johnson. Actual Historical Name-Dropping appears to be A Required Thing in Old-School Romance.
Alyson is pregnant. Alyson is surprised. You are not surprised.
Chapters 27-33 — Scotland, November 1760
Two-thirds done. You will not believe what happens in the last third.
Our grumpy couple slogs off to Scotland and stays at Alyson’s ruined castle tower because of course she has one. The one remaining servant of course remembers her dear sainted mother and grandmother who totally weren’t witches.
Meanwhile, Alyson’s Long-Dead Father reappears in Cornwall to Claim His Rightful Inheritance. Everyone believes him because OF COURSE he looks exactly like his childhood portrait and the portraits of all his ancestors in the portrait gallery.
The Long-Dead Father slogs off to Scotland.
The Evil Heir slogs off to Scotland.
Meanwhile, Rory gets all pissy that Alyson is using her own money to fix up her own castle so he stomps off to his own castle which isn’t his anymore because his Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousin (hereafter known as Evil Cousin #2) stole it during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Rory rouses the impoverished populace to his Rightful Cause and they hoard weapons and steal sheep.
Rory and Alyson finally have sex again but they’re still mad at each other.
With cries of joy, they discovered new heights, and clinging to each other, fell from the cliffs with dizzying delight.
That cliff thing was just a metaphor. The actual cliff-falling comes later. Sorry not sorry about the spoilers; I’m trying to get this mess of crap over with.
The Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousins conspire to kill off the Rightful Heirs. This involves shooting at the happy couple from across a loch in hopes of starting a landslide because they’re both too drunk to aim properly. But don’t worry. Rory saves them.
“‘Tis nothin’, lass. Dinna fash yerself.”
I did not make that up.
Alyson’s Long-Dead Father shows up on Christmas Eve in a snowstorm.
I did not make that up either.
Alyson’s parents were totally really married and therefore she is not illegitimate but there’s no proof OF COURSE because someone ripped the pages from the marriage register or ship’s log or something.
Rory gets an Illegal Kilt for Christmas and he totally Wears It In Defiance because he is a Rebel and the Rightful Heir.
Evil Cousin #1 finally gets disgusted with being an Disgusting Drunken Lecher and ditches Evil Cousin #2 to stew in his own juices (don’t ask).
Then there’s this swirling snowstorm and they all go out searching for…someone…because Alyson has Had A Vision. You know, that Second Sight thing because we haven’t had any blatant foreshadowing in like a whole chapter and a half even though it doesn’t really add anything to the plot.
Chapters 34-OH DEAR GOD WE’RE FINALLY ALMOST DONE
85%. We’re finally getting to the good stuff. Trust me.
Alyson is now approximately 57 weeks pregnant and she very innocently goes for a walk on a high, snowy, craggy hill because Scotland in the winter is really boring, duh. A scary dark-caped horseman appears out of the fog and there’s screaming and whatnot. Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) naturally assumes his Paragon of Innocence ran away again so he gets all up in arms (literally, with, like guns and everything) and goes after her up the high, snowy, craggy hill.
Alyson goes into labor on the high, snowy craggy hill. Because — all together now — OF COURSE SHE DOES.
BUT WAIT. This is where it gets exciting. The bad guy (Evil Cousin #2, not the boiling-tea-in-the-crotch one) catches Alyson and ties her up and hauls her off to Rory’s Repossessed Castle. But on the way, Evil Cousin #2 shoots at Rory and makes him fall off the cliff (not a metaphor this time). But don’t worry — Rory pulls an Indiana Jones and clambers back up the craggy hillside.
Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) calls his men to arms.
Men poured in from the blinding blizzard, summoned by a series of signals, As they arrived, the servants passed out torches. Outlawed swords, halberds, and hatchets were removed from the walls…. Even Rory, once his injuries had been seen to, emerged sporting the plaid of war instead of a frock coat.
They’re going FULL KILT here, people. Like…Braveheart. Yeah, Braveheart.
Or…maybe more like this:
But with, you know, kilts. Because we’re in Scotland, duh.
Meanwhile, Alyson is still in labor. Evil Cousin #2 tries to throw her out a window but she spits in his face. Rory is concerned that such”wayward behavior” will enrage the demented villain even further. I did not make that up.
The bad guy sets something on fire and makes a break for it.
Only when he flung open the door did Drummond realize the back stairs were filled with pitchforks, hatchets and carving knives of his own servants.
He turned and found Rory waiting for him in the doorway, claymore in hand, the fire blazing impossibly high behind him, glinting red off his hair as if he were a demon from hell.
Rory carries Alyson to safety and they argue if the baby will be a boy or girl.
It’s a boy. Because of course it is.
Bagpipe time! Rory does a sword dance in his kilt.
Because he’s the Rightful Laird, ye ken.
I just got lost for about 20 minutes looking at Highland sword dance pictures.
Post-baby sex in a meadow. You are not surprised.
Things I Have Learned About Old-School Romance
- All the heroines are dimwit ingenues.
- All the heroes are galumphing whiners.
- Plots are magically driven by Very Convenient Coincidences.
- Actual Historical Name-Dropping is required.
- London is always foggy.
- Virginal blood is a Big Deal and worth saving to share with friends and family and pirate crews.
- Food and music metaphors are vitally important because otherwise the sex would be really boring.
- Runaway ingenues never actually end up in brothels no matter how many times the exasperated heroes tell them they will.
- People can have sex in a jungle but not get eaten by gigantic bugs.
- People can have sex in a Scottish meadow and not get swarmed by gnats.
The final pronouncement
Moon Dreams was, indeed, full-on Old School Romance. complete with wild adventure and purple prose. The pacing was dreadful and every time Alyson ran away I wanted to scream, but the last 15% with the pitchfork mob was worth the effort.