Second-novelist Scott (The Lucky Gourd Shop, 2000) traces the uneven course of a real-life 19th-century Maryland heiress’s love affair with the French pirate Jean Lafitte.
Cassandra Owings, the daughter of a wealthy Maryland landowner, meets and falls in love with one Benedict van Pradelles, a French aristocrat who’d served with Lafayette in the Revolutionary War but has been reduced to penury in the wake of the French Revolution. Benedict and Cassandra want to marry, but Cassandra’s father refuses permission, so they elope and sail to France, where Benedict’s family is suffering through the horrors of the Reign of Terror. Already dispossessed of their lands, houses, and titles, Benedict’s parents are literally hiding for their lives when Benedict and Cassandra find them in Paris. While Benedict and his father set about organizing a secret opposition group to the revolutionary government, Cassandra looks after Benedict’s mother, by now dying of starvation and heartbreak. One accomplice from Benedict’s underground coterie is a young gentleman named Jean Lafitte, a counterrevolutionary courier who soon becomes Cassandra’s friend, confidante, and lover. Eventually, both Benedict’s and Jean’s fathers are killed by the mob, and Cassandra, Benedict, and Jean all have no choice but to flee France. Cassandra and Benedict go to New Orleans, where Benedict becomes a respected state official and close friend of Governor William Claiborne, who’s waging a fierce campaign against the pirates terrorizing the Gulf Coast ports. One of the most notorious is none other than Jean Lafitte, who comes often to New Orleans and resumes his secret affair with Cassandra. After Benedict dies of yellow fever, Cassandra (now ostracized from polite society) leaves for Maryland, but her ship is set upon by pirates—led by Lafitte. A happy ending? It depends on which ending (Cassandra’s fate is disputed to this day) you accept.
A good sweep of history, though rather overwhelmed in the end by heavy breathing and swelling bosoms.