I like books that start off with a bit of a bang. This one certainly does.
In the Tower of London, an adventurer is awaiting trial for the murder of his wife, whom he loves quite dearly. For Gavin Elliot life on the seas and dry land has been a long series of hairbreadth escapes, and winning the love of not one, but two women. Now he's lost everything.
We get the heroine, the blond and beautiful Alexandra Warren in the middle of a pirate attack in the East Indies. Recently widowed, and with her young daughter, Katie, in tow, she's seeking to return to England and her family. But captured by pirates from a close by island, not only is she separated from her beloved daughter, she is subjected to a life of horrors.
Noted romance author Mary Jo Putney gives us another entry in her "Bride" series, with the title in this one coming from the events surrounding Alex's captivity by the decadent Sultan Kasan. The Sultan offers Elliot a choice -- to rescue Alex he must win at the challenges of the Lion's Game, or help the sultan build a merchanting empire. The fact that the sultan uses piracy to terrorize local shipping is a little matter here as well -- and Elliot has pressing business in England over a touch of revenge. How he manages to outwit the Sultan and rescue Alex and her daughter makes for one of the more entertaining sections of the novel.
Returning to England, our two main characters have managed to make a marriage of convenience, but further troubles await in persistant would-be lovers, a pack of in-laws (mostly characters from previous Putney novels that I found to be distracting), and that murder charge that the novel opened with. While I don't mind flashbacks as a plot device, sometimes it gets annoying. To the author's credit, her handling of the old tried-and-true "captured by pirates" storyline is here told in an inventive style, and kept my interest until the end of the novel. Both of the characters have emotional baggage that they cart along with them, and Putney handles the sensitive issue of rape and abuse in a dignified manner, much different than the usual "forcible seduction" that's a stock in trade of bodice rippers.
The bad part of the novel is that the villains are pretty much stock characters here, with only the Sultan being at all interesting (enough to make me wonder if Putney was setting him up as a future hero in a forthcoming book), but the others are pretty much one-notes. The really bad part is that the novel could have been more interesting if the extra characters had been cut out -- I kept getting distracted and bogged down with the little tidbits that Putney kept tossing here and there. Still, it's an interesting read for those of you who like their romance novels with plenty of adventure, and Putney has a deft touch in her writing style. Even the erotic bits are tasteful, and that's rare thing to find these days.