I can’t believe it’s been so long since I did a Sunfire novel! I am way behind on my quota of trashy romance. Would you believe I didn’t completely and totally hate this one with the fire of a million suns? It’s true!
Sabrina, Candice F. Ransom, 1986.
This cover is…you know, a little weird. The artist made a game stab at how Sabrina is described in the book, but then whiffed big-time on the outfit, because half of this book is Sabrina’s complaints about how she doesn’t have anything nice to wear. At one point she borrows a fancy dress from her cousin, but why would that be the cover? Also, check out Sabrina and Greencoat there in the corner—he looks like he’s trying to bore into her with his eyes and she’s going “Uhh…I think I’m getting a call, you’re going to have to excuse me,” and then there’s Fringey in the other corner. Good show.
What I did enjoy is that this is a Revolutionary War book, but it’s set in South Carolina, instead of the 15 million books from that era that are set in Boston and maybe New York if you’re super lucky. So points for that. And I didn’t completely loathe Sabrina! Although I will note that there’s an error on the back cover blurb—it says that Sabrina “lives and works in her uncle’s shop,” when she…just works there and lives somewhere else, which is actually a fairly major plot point. But I get ahead of myself.
Sabrina is sixteen, which I believe is the Traditional Age for Sunfire Heroines, and an orphan who lives with her uncle Phineas, aunt Agatha, and cousin Mercy in Charleston. They’re all Patriots, although Sabrina is in love with a guy named Martin, who is a Tory. Now, my absolute favourite category of romance is “people on opposing sides of conflict fall in love,” which probably says something unsavoury about my character, and I thought I was going to enjoy this more than I did. Martin is a Tory, but he’s a pretty weak one—he’s mostly in favour of sticking with the king for winning the French and Indian Wars for them. Martin joins one of the Tory regiments in town, much to Mercy’s disgust, after Charleston falls to the British shelling.
After that, we’re off to the races. Sabrina notices that her uncle, who used to be an ardent Patriot, is suddenly a lot more wishy-washy on the patriotism thing, and even says stuff like the British are offering good business to the community. Which they are. Phineas is a pharmacist, and the British soldiers are buying a lot of his stuff, so he has a point, but it’s still baffling to Sabrina, who doesn’t seem like the sharpest tool in the shed. She’s like “But why would you want to attract them?” and he’s just like…because we like to eat, maybe?
Sabrina helps out at the pharmacy shop while her cousin goes to finishing school, and one afternoon a “backwoodsman” comes in and Phineas starts acting reeeaaaaaal weeeeeeird, and all agitated when the guy asks for a “liver remedy.” This backwoodsman guy is also kind of an asshole who immediately starts insulting Sabrina for the shitty dye job on her dress and the fact that she sounds like a snotty Charlestonian, and she tells him that she is no snotty Charlestonian! In fact, before her parents died, they were upcountry planters! So there! And Backwoodsman is like “So, they were rich plantation owners” and she’s like “nuh-uh!” and snots at him that if she was a wealthy plantation owner’s daughter, she wouldn’t be wearing an ugly dress and working at an apothecary. She has a point, but what is WRONG with Sunfire heroines falling deeply in love with guys who are assholes when they first meet?
Was that a spoiler? Listen, this is a Sunfire book, you know damn well there’s going to be two men vying for the girl’s affections.
Phineas is like “Why are you so rude to customers?” and Sabrina points out, correctly, that he was rude to her first. But it’s OK, because later that day Martin asks her to a ball! A Tory ball, but still! She’s never been to one before, and Phineas is like “Perfect! You should definitely, definitely go and see who you meet there! 100% for sure!” and Sabrina is like weird, why would he want me to mingle with so many Tories? God. She rushes home to borrow a dress from Mercy, and her aunt dresses her hair, even though they bitch and moan and complain that Sabrina really shouldn’t be going to Tory events anyhow. Nonetheless, she has a lovely time, and is so excited she can barely eat, and has a wonderfully romantic night with Martin. And doesn’t get home until two in the morning, which is apparently OK. Agatha and Mercy don’t say shit to her, but Phineas is like “Did you happen to hear anything interesting at the ball? Like, say, troop movements, or how they’re moving their supplies around?” and Sabrina is like “Nah, not that I heard, but weird, why would you even want to know that?” She’s SO DUMB.
Anyway, with the sickly season coming in the summer and people coming down with all kinds of disgusting fevers, Sabrina spends more and more time helping out at the pharmacy. Her uncle tells her it’s actually because she’s so smart that they didn’t want to send her to finishing school, because she should be doing so much more than embroidering hankies! That is kind of a low blow on their ACTUAL daughter, but whatever. Richard, the Mean Backwoodsman, comes back for more “liver remedy,” and Sabrina notes it’s closed with weird wooden stoppers, and tries to figure out what reason there could POSSIBLY be for these WEIRD, WEIRD stoppers with the holes! Who could POSSIBLY know? Then he completely freaks out when Sabrina moves a lantern from one window to another and yells at her to never, ever do that again. Weird. What a mystery this is.
Sabrina spills all of this to Martin, who’s like “Have you considered that your uncle may possibly be a spy?” and she’s like NO WAI, HOW COULD THIS BE? Then they have a romantic evening on the water, with flowers blooming, and she reflects on how much she loves him and how this can’t possibly end poorly, because they love each other so much! Helpful hint, Sabrina: love isn’t enough.
But after that bombshell, Uncle Phineas come down with a terrible fever and Sabrina has to run to the pharmacy to get something to help him, but nothing works. Instead, while he’s raving with fever, he keeps telling Sabrina she needs to go mind the shop for a very important customer. Wow, who could it be? She says she’ll “take care of – that other business, too,” and he’s all shocked that someone could puzzle out his amazing deception. So she goes to the shop and finds the secret message hidden in the stopper of the “liver remedy,” and then who walks in but Backwoods Buckskin Man himself, Richard?
He’s all irritable and “You don’t know what you’re doing” and she’s like “You’re right! I don’t! This is all a complete mystery to me!” and apparently that’s the right thing to say because after that Richard spills everything, including his life story. God, he’s a terrible spy. One decent-looking girl and he’s like “Yes! Know all the state secrets!” And for whatever reason Sabrina’s like “oh, he’s dreamy!” Why? He’s dirty and kind of mean? They set up a secret signal that whenever she has important information, she’ll arrange a bootjack a certain way, so she can help do spy stuff.
Anyway, her boyfriend Martin stops by the pharmacy while she’s minding it and is all “Oh, I’m off to go do important soldiering things along the river, see you later,” because no one in this book has ever heard of OPSEC. Anyway, she passes along all this important information, and then Martin comes back from his trip and is like “I was nearly killed, and you know why? We were jumped! You’re a spy and you almost had me killed!” and she’s like “Well, I didn’t think you would be hurt.” It’s a war, dumbass. He says he can’t trust her anymore, which is a good point, and she’s like “No! Everything can be OK again!” and he’s like “nah, see ya.” But who turns up a couple of nights later, tossing pebbles at the window of her and Mercy’s room? Martin, with a severely wounded man who turns out to be Lewis Prideau, Mercy’s sort-of boyfriend! Lewis, a Patriot, was captured by the British and held on a prison ship for months, but mutinied and leapt into the water, and shot in the leg, and then had his leg amputated! So he’s almost dead, but they agree to take him in and nurse him back to health, and Sabrina is like “This must mean he still loves me!” No, he’s just not a monster.
In the fall, Lewis is recovering (minus one leg), but Martin comes flying over to let them know that they’ve figured out where he is. So they spirit him off to his family home, which saves both Lewis and all of Sabrina’s family, and then Sabrina turns right around and spills all the useful information to Richard again. Sabrina’s like “Gee, do you think he’s a traitor? I hope not!” and somehow that devolves into a conversation about each other’s eyes and then they make out a little. Lord.
Sabrina dithers about whether or not she loves Martin, when he’s acting so weirdly, and then one day he comes to visit her and tells her he ditched his regiment and he’s fleeing to Canada for good because he can’t be a traitor but he doesn’t respect the king anymore. Sabrina’s like “The same Canada that’s British?” and he’s like “I’m just going to go live in the woods,” and she can’t argue with that. He even says he wanted to ask her to go with him, but realized that was a stupid idea, and tells her she’s going to find someone better. You know, I hope this is his subtle way of saying “You’re a spy, you almost got me killed, and you’re cheating on me with some dirty backwoodsman.”
Another member of the spy ring comes to see Phineas, and says they have some critical information that badly needs to go upriver, but he’s too well-known and Phineas isn’t recovered enough to do it. So Sabrina volunteers. She rides with a peddler out of town, who drops her off onto a boat that she’ll have to pole all the way upriver. It’s dark as hell, she’s not entirely clear where she’s going, and she just pushes her way further and further up the river in the pitch black, and then she stumbles right into a big group of alligators. So she abandons the boat and starts running through the swamp muck, and the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of Richard needling her about being a spoiled, pampered Charleston girl. That’s…..not healthy at all.
But you know who she finds? Fucking Richard! How? It is not at ALL explained how she managed to find her way through all this dark unlit swamp to meet Richard and a bunch of other men, and Richard’s like “It’s OK, we’ve been tracking you!” And you just let her get nearly eaten by alligators and almost lost in the swamp? Why? Also never explained. But Richard is so impressed by Sabrina’s amazing skills that he says he loves her, and wants to marry her, and she says she wants nothing more than to live in the mountains with him forever and ever.
Rating: B-. That is a very high rating for a Sunfire book! I didn’t completely hate it! I mean, there’s lots of annoying “she’s not like other girls” and unfair trashing on Mercy for being feminine, but Sabrina does undergo some actual character development and learns that her family really does love her even if she didn’t think so. As always, this book loses points for having the two love interests be dickweeds, which is normal for Sunfire books, but hey. And I did enjoy how Martin straight-up told her “I was going to ask you to marry me but that wouldn’t be a good idea,” so points to him for that. So you know, if you’re going to read a Sunfire book and you want to have some information about the southern part of the Revolutionary War shoved into your head, pick this one. Is that a ringing endorsement? No, but it’ll do.