Monday, September 13, 2010

Phyllis A. Whitney: Sea Jade

I can't remember ever having read this one by Whitney, though I have read many by her. It turned out to be quite surprising and well written-- a true Gothic published in 1964. I wish I could find the Fawcett Crest cover of the edition I read (my copy cover is quite tattered). It is quite different with shades of jade on the back and periwinkle and jade on the front as background for a ship labeled Sea Jade, a yellow moon, and the heroine in a pink dress and black cape, looking back at a small house.

In the novel, a young woman, Miranda Heath, has traveled to the creepy Kent mansion of Captain Obadiah Bascomb, her father's old friend and sailing partner. After her father's death and with her mother having died long ago, she hopes to find help -- shelter, etc. from him, though her father warned her right before his death not to trust him or ever go to him for help.

Miranda realizes something is strange right away, and that she is not wanted there in Bascomb's Point. The Capt. tells her his plan that she will marry Brock McLean, the son of his other business partner, so that the business may rise again to greatness. She does under some duress-- rather foolishly as McLean is not outwardly interested in her, to say the least.

In an unhappy marriage, she explores a mystery that Captain Bascomb  mentioned right before his death and gets more than she bargained for. Of course, there is a rival love interest, Ian, and a cast of other characters who are well drawn. The love entanglements are not predictable; the plot is not either. It is full of twists and turns.

Characterization: 5/5 [I could picture the characters vividly. Brock McLean would be played by Clive Owen; Miranda Heath might be Scarlett Johansson. Ian Pryott could be played by Ewan MacGregor. I pictured Lucy Liu in the role of Lien, Capt. Bascomb's wife, and Glenn Close as Sybil McLean-- Brock McLean's mother. Then, there's the black dog named Lucifer... ]

Plot: 5/5 [I was into the plot from page 1 and it moved steadily and unpredictably.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The ancestral home is mysterious as is the lighthouse, and old ship, and the brooding husband and menacing Captain. The 1870s setting in New York is another Gothic touch. I could only wish for some true supernatural elements, but most are only suggested at by characters who want them to be true.]

Literary?  4/5 [It is well written and smart. The novel references Gothic writers, and some history of Chinese trade and ship building make the novel a standout.]

Romance? Yes, but much unhappiness before that happens.

Rating: 4+stars ****+

I highly recommend this one. I have read some of Whitney's weaker, older OR more modern works, and this one is superior to several. I will be on the lookout for other similar ones by her.

3 comments:

Sandy said...

I feel so lucky because I own this book already! Like many of my books, I haven't read it yet but I will put it to the top of the TBR list thanks to your review. I have read many of her books and I remember on in particular - The Window on the Square. I enjoyed it. Please keep up your reviews. They are so helpful and interesting! Clark Brady

lisalgreer said...

Hi, Clark. I have that one in my to read pile-- 'The Window on the Square.' Thanks for the kind words...

Fiddlette said...

I loved reading this...and did so cause of your recommendation...it was a real pleasure! thnx for the review!

I have to be careful with Phillis Whitney books...this is the only one I've read I have truly enjoyed...although, I think Black Amber was an ok read, but I absolutely hated The Winter People, ugh...so I guess it is a matter of chance...

 
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