To say that Lauren Willig is a favorite author of mine is the understatement of the year. Everything she touches is like magic for me. She is hands down one of my favorite authors and an author I have on auto-buy. Lauren Willig is historical fiction at its best—plain and simple.
When I saw this book was coming out and that it was set in the exotic location of Barbados, I knew it was going to be glorious and I had it on pre-order almost immediately. I was also gifted and early ARC of this book as well, but I knew between the cover and the author, I needed the finished product to put on my shelf!
When it came, I was knee deep in all my other summer reading and I was impatient to start this one, but it was also lengthy. So I decided to get it on Audible as well, that way I could listen to it when I was running my errands and alternate between reading and listening so that I could get it in faster!
1854. From Bristol to Barbados…
Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous merchant clan—merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheiritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.
When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.
Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills—so eager that they invite Emily and her cousins to stay with them indefinitely? Emily finds herself bewitched by the beauty of the island even as she’s drawn into the personalities and politics of forty years before: a tangled history of clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.
When family secrets begin to unravel and the harsh truth of history becomes more and more plain, Emily must challenge everything she thought she knew about her family, their legacy… and herself (summary from Goodreads).
There aren’t that many books set in the West Indies, especially during the early to mid 1800s (at least that I have heard of) which made this book stand out. It promised something new, exotic, and epic. As you can all guess, I was primed to love this book before I even opened a page. But I have to admit I struggled to articulate my thoughts on this one.
On one hand, I read it like a mad woman and was completely invested in both stories. It had the epic feel that was promised and it exceeded my expectations in historical content as well as a refreshing and new setting. But I don’t know that I loved any of the characters. It took me a few chapters to sort out what all was going on and the family dynamics were a challenge. I wasn’t sure if it was the narrator or not, but I instantly didn’t like Adam and found him pompous and his wife Laura who was supposed to be Emily’s best friend was bland and in my opinion didn’t need to be in the story at all.
Then the more characters that we met, I just never felt like I could trust any of them and was constantly uneasy with many of them. I felt like a lot of it had to do with the narrator so I eventually abandoned my audiobook in favor of reading the book instead and found that helped. But I still never regained my confidence in some of the characters.
I also felt like this book was a little slow to begin with. There was a huge focus on the slavery aspect and slavery politics in Barbados at that time which I felt was tedious but oddly interesting as it was a perspective on slavery that I wasn’t familiar with. I’ve studied so much on slavery in the South during the Civil War, that it was interesting to read about slavery in a different country in roughly the same period as the political view of slavery started changing.
Emily was an absolute pistol and I loved her! She was the break out star in this book for me. I was most invested in her story and glad to see how things ended. I initially loved Charles and Jenny, but the more their story went on the more tired I got of Charles’ naive optimism and Jenny’s impatience. I absolutely hated Robert and didn’t find that he had any redeeming qualities even if Charles had fond memories of him as a child, we the reader aren’t privy to those memories and in the end I felt that Charles’ affection and tolerance for him was grossly misplaced.
So where does that leave me when it comes to rating? It was so much more than a 3 star book that much is clear. The research and historical aspect and setting demands a higher rating than 3 stars, but the story landed in the 3 star range for me. I ended up going with a 4 star rating, though I debated about 3.5 stars, Emily and fresh new setting and the fact that I was constantly uneasy in the book (which I believe was intentional) made me bump it up to 4 solid stars.