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The Iron Rose    by Marsha Canham order for
Iron Rose
by Marsha Canham
Order:  USA  Can
Signet, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

When Juliet Dante, Captain of the sleek vessel, The Iron Rose, guides her ship out of a bank of mist, the last thing she expects to encounter is a Spanish galleon about to deliver the coup de gras to much smaller British ship, The Argus. To go against the massive galleon could spell death or worse, captivity, yet Juliet cannot in good conscience allow the Spaniards to follow through on their despicable act. She and her crew fly into battle, take the galleon and save the remaining passengers and crew of The Argus. After a quick inventory of the Santo Domingo's holds, Juliet realises that she's captured the treasure of a lifetime.

She also encounters British Duke and King's envoy Varian St. Clare, somewhat the worse for wear after surviving a cannon strike. Her first impression of the man is negative -- in his fine frippery and with his fussy manservant cowering close by, St. Clare appears to be nothing more than a fop in torn satin and lace. But on the trip back to her father's tropical stronghold of Pigeon Bay, Juliet discovers the Duke of Harrow is not at all he first appeared to be. She also learns that St. Clare has been dispatched as a peace envoy at the request of the kings of England and Spain -- the sovereigns want all privateers to cease and desist further acts of piracy against Spanish ships, thereby assuring future trade agreements between the two super powers.

Juliet dismisses St. Clare's mission as a waste of time. Her father, renowned privateer Simon Dante, aka the infamous Pirate Wolf, once fought beside Francis Drake and has remained an active thorn in the side of the Spanish for three decades. He would never agree to peace with the hated and treacherous Spaniards. But Varian is adamant and honour bound to follow through on his mission.

When an audience is finally arranged with the wily Wolf, his equally cunning wife Isabeau announces that Juliet was correct; it appears that St. Clare has indeed been dispatched on a fool's mission. Translation of the Santo Domingo's journals and manifests indicate that the Spanish king has no intention of making peace or signing trade agreements, has instead ordered all his ships home to mount a second invasion against England. The Caribbee brotherhood of privateers have two choices -- they can sit back and allow Spain to attack England and possibly win this war, or they can join forces and cripple the massive armada before it leaves the waters of the Caribbean.

Marsha Canham shows once again, with this truly extraordinary story, why she retains the title of 'queen of historical swashbucklers'. Rich in historical detail and lush imagery, and peopled with a large cast of marvellous characters, The Iron Rose doesn't strike a single negative note. Juliet and Varian are beautifully matched opponents in their ongoing war of words, wits and eventually, love. That path is of course a very rocky one, for Juliet has been raised in a male world and refuses to be outdone by, or let herself care for, any man, including the intriguing Duke of Harrow.

Canham does a nice role reversal here, making Juliet a truly strong and determined woman who lets nothing stand in her way. Varian, although quietly formidable in his own right, is at first completely exasperated by Juliet's manner, but soon comes to understand, appreciate and applaud her strengths. Great pacing and wonderfully realistic action sequences are simply the frosting on the cake. Lovers of a good old fashioned high seas adventure will eat up The Iron Rose and demand to know when Juliet's two elder brothers, Jonas and Gabriel, will return in stories of their own!

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