Full Disclosure: I received early access to this book from netgalley, in exchange for writing an impartial review.
A compelling debut novel from a new author who shows great promise, though the construction of this novel feels less than perfectly-executed to me. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads but 3.5 stars is probably more reflective of my overall impression.
This book begins in the late 1800s in Dublin when a pair of impoverished, orphaned sisters (late teens) learn they have inherited property from an uncle they never knew existed. Louisa Campbell, the elder sister, believes moving to England to assume control of this property is their best option and will hopefully benefit her sister Eleanor, who is in ill health.
It is upon their arrival that the drama begins to unfold. An adjoining landowner, Nicolas Maxwell, who has long wanted to possess the Campbell’s farm, which had once been part of his own family’s vast holdings, greets Louisa with resentment, anger and threats. The Campbell property’s caretaker is reluctant to show Louisa “the books” or educate her about how the farm is run. And as Irish immigrants from humble origins, the two sisters are uncertain whether local society will even accept them. Especially because some local Irish freedom fighters, the Fenians, are behind a string of recent terrorist activities.
Against this backdrop, the Campbell sisters slowly begin to learn about some of the long-held secrets and resentments within their own family, as well as hidden connections between some of their new neighbors. Along with the political tension between the Irish and British, the author explores some important human themes including the nature of family loyalty, how initial impressions can turn out to be false, the ways trust is built and/or destroyed, how power gets wielded and sometimes abused in a small town, and, of course, how love can blossom in the unlikeliest places. (After all, there has to be SOME romance in any good historical fiction, right?)
It’s a fast moving story, with quite a few surprises, that will keep you turning each page. And I enjoyed the humor the author develops in some of the more important characters. But there were also moments where I felt the story construction lacked polish. Here are a few examples:
• One chapter would build tension toward an important upcoming event. Then, the next chapter picked up AFTER that event was complete. Perhaps those “missing” chapters had been included in earlier drafts and then removed for some reason. But, as a reader, I wound up feeling a bit cheated. Like I had been left out of some important moments.
• A few of the characters are complex and fully three-dimensional. But others are more simplistic, either wholly good or wholly bad.
• In the budding romance, some plot twists felt contrived to me, inserted simply to provide an extra and unnecessary “test” to developing affections.
I still recommend this book, especially to lovers of historical fiction. And I will look for future offerings from this author. Pam Lecky clearly exhibits substantial innate talent that I believe will only improve with time.
More about the author, Pam Lecky. This novel has been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion and was short-listed for the Carousel Aware Prize (CAP) 2016 and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award.