Friday, November 20, 2009

The evolution of enthusiasm

I've mentioned DeVa Gantt's Colette trilogy on occasion here, mostly in the visual previews. I reviewed all three books for the Historical Novels Review and thought I'd post about them all now that the final review is out in HNR's November issue. Forever Waiting, volume three, is officially released next Tuesday.

My fondness for family sagas isn't a secret, so as soon as I heard about these books, I asked my fellow reviews editor Ellen to request copies for me. As you'll see, I wasn't completely sold on book one, but by the midpoint of book two, I found myself wrapped up in the story, and book three was my favorite of them all. Misfit has also reviewed the first two, and our opinions turned out very similar.

If you're into sagas at all, I recommend seeking out this trilogy, as it's completely addictive.

DeVa Gantt, Harper, 2008, $13.95/C$14.95, pb, 373pp, 9780061578236

In 1833 Richmond, Virginia, fifteen-year-old Charmaine Ryan leaves poverty behind when she takes a job as companion to wealthy Loretta Harrington. The daughter of an alcoholic wife-beater, Charmaine naturally distrusts most men yet remains open to whatever opportunities life might offer her. Three years later, Mrs. Harrington helps her obtain a position as governess on Charmantes, the Duvoisin family’s private Caribbean island estate. Charmaine quickly befriends Colette Duvoisin, the youthful mother of her three charges, but all is not well in her adopted island home. As she gets drawn into the Duvoisins’ circle, Charmaine puzzles over the reasons behind their obvious discontent. Why are relations uneasy between Colette and Frederic, her elderly shipping magnate husband, and what caused his estrangement from his eldest son, John? Is there an unnatural reason for Colette’s constant ill health? And will Charmaine act on her attraction to Paul, Frederic’s dashing bastard son?

The novel, co-authored by two sisters writing under a pseudonym and previously self-published, lacks a certain polish. There are many abrupt viewpoint shifts (do we need to hear every minor character’s thoughts?), and the prose veers from clunky to elegant and back again. Perhaps the lush, informal island setting can excuse the lack of attention paid to some social niceties, but one would expect sharper divisions between the classes, and Charmaine’s position as governess doesn’t involve much academic instruction. Yet despite its flaws, the saga never failed to keep my attention. It has an epic, page-turning quality many other novels only aspire to. I found myself transported to the authors’ fascinating fictional creation of Charmantes, caught up in the drama of the characters’ lives and eager to continue the Duvoisins’ story in the next volume of the Colette trilogy. Put this one in the “guilty pleasure” category.

DeVa Gantt, Avon A, 2009, $13.99/C$16.99, pb, 363pp, 9780061578250

The sisters who co-write as DeVa Gantt have hit their stride with the middle volume of their Colette trilogy (originally self-published as one volume). With its narrower scope, engrossing storyline, and fewer competing viewpoints, Decision and Destiny is much stronger of a novel than A Silent Ocean Away, although it can’t stand on its own. It opens in August 1837 on Charmantes, the West Indies island owned and developed by the Duvoisins, a family involved in international shipping and the export of local crops. Charmaine Ryan, governess to three-year-old Pierre and nine-year-old twins Yvette and Jeannette, has become a substitute mother figure since the death of their beautiful young mother, Colette. Although Charmaine is ostensibly the protagonist, the plot centers on John, the long-estranged Duvoisin heir, a man whose cynical, sarcastic exterior masks an anguish-filled past. Though strongly attracted to his charming half-brother, Paul, Charmaine grows intrigued by the enigmatic John, for he clearly adores her young charges. While slowly revealing facets of their personalities, the action steadily builds toward a denouement in which secrets hidden for decades are finally laid bare.

Decision and Destiny is chock full of all the elements saga fans expect: drama, romance, blackmail, family rivalries, a past that hangs over the present, and strong bonds of affection, too. The Gantts have taken special care in developing their younger characters, and it shows. The three Duvoisin children exhibit realistic traits and engage in antics that are delightfully humorous without being precious. While the tropical island setting feels authentic and tangible, the dialogue is sometimes too modern, and the historical backdrop lightly sketched, though this last was a wise decision. It keeps the focus where it belongs, on the Duvoisins themselves. I can’t wait to read the final installment, out in November.

DeVa Gantt, Avon A, 2009, $13.99, pb, 434pp, 9780061578267

The Duvoisin family saga that began with A Silent Ocean Away and Decision and Destiny wraps up with this final volume. It takes place in the late 1830s in Virginia and on the lush West Indies island of Charmantes, the longtime residence of the wealthy Duvoisin family. Charmaine Ryan, the family’s governess, finally makes her choice between the two Duvoisin brothers: Paul, the dashing illegitimate son, who makes his marital intentions clear at last; and John, the complex man with whom she has, to her surprise, fallen in love. In the last book, John had left Charmantes in the wake of a devastating tragedy, but circumstances call him back again – to face his father, patriarch Frederic Duvoisin, and determine whether the deep wounds between them can ever be repaired. Forever Waiting is ultimately a novel about maturity, forgiveness, and coming to terms with the past, but before the dust settles, there’s still much more of the Duvoisins’ painful history yet to be revealed.

The novels must be read in order, and although the first one started out rough, I quickly became sold on this trilogy. It’s full of likeable, flawed characters I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with; John’s gradual transformation from embittered, cynical family pariah to honorable hero was especially well portrayed. While the ongoing drama remains at the forefront, the story takes place against a well-rendered backdrop of the 19th-century shipping industry and the burgeoning abolitionist movement along America’s eastern seaboard. The plot twists and turns in unpredictable ways, and the conclusion is as satisfying as anyone could wish. DeVa Gantt is the joint pseudonym for co-author sisters Deb and Valerie, and some have called their style old-fashioned, but if their work marks a return to solid, engrossing storytelling, then I’m all for it.


  1. Evolution of enthusiasm indeed - your increasingly high opinion as the saga progresses comes over strongly in the reviews! This sounds like one to look out for - thanks for the review.

  2. These books are definitely on my list. I have the first two just waiting for me to read.

  3. I am looking forward to getting my hands on this one, just waiting for the library copies to come in. Wonder which brother she picks (no, don't tell me).

  4. I won't give that away! Hope you enjoy it too.

  5. I just read the first book and enjoyed it. The story has caught me and I can't wait to read the next two books. I need to find out what happens!