When you see the cover of this novel you expect a sappy Pirate penny romance but there is hardly a ship in sight and it is not a pirate bodice ripper. (So publisher make it a cover with a mansion and a couple instead)
The novel reminded me a lot of "Pride and Prejudice". Not because of the plot because this is a complete different storyline but because of the ambiance and the way the people develop. It is set in the same era: during Napoleon or what the English speaking world calls the Regency. And although it is not set in England but in the USA 20 years after the Revolution still many of the senior citizens of Salem in New England (yes of the witches trials 100 years prior) have a strong link with England and the English norms and values of society life. Eleanor Hampton is a level headed, intelligent unmarried woman on the verge of spinsterhood who after the death of her father takes care of her younger teenage sister and very immature mother. A mother with tantrums and theatrics that somehow ended up with the voice of Mrs Bennet from the 1990-ties BBC version of Pride and Prejudice in my head. Isaac McCallister is a tall darkhaired silent stoic man who keeps his cards close to his chests and had a lot of tales an scandals surrounding him but is a real good person (A bit the Darcy type). He is ten years older than Eleanor and the stepbrother of her father and the owner of the estate and the cottage Eleanor and her family live in gentile poverty in.
The novel starts with Captain Isaac McCallister returning from a five year period of slavery in the Barbary states (Algeria, Tunesia in this case, white slavery). While he was away Eleanor's father and Isaac's brother have died and Eleanor's mother had been pressing lawsuits against her step-family. Eleanor fears that with the heir returning her family will be evicted and walks over to Isaac's house to plea their case. In despair she offers the only thing she can: herself. She will be willingly be his mistress as long as he takes care of her family. Isaac suggests another option: they can marry.
Eleanor and Isaac set up house and things go differently than you might expect. And then there is a murder.
Yes so far it sounds like a soppy romance but that is just the first impression at the beginning. It is the psychological development between the two main characters but also the minor people that is very well done. It feels real. You follow their line of thought.
The story is written by someone who studied history and that shows. In the storyline there is a lot of background information. I, as a non-American, found it interesting to read about the early days of the USA. Where definitely not everyone was so happy with saying good bye to England. Where sea captains who still owned their big privateer-ships decided to go and sail the oceans to far away places and trade just because those big brigs were not suitable for a bit of coastal trade and thus transforming small Salem into a cosmopolitan town. Where both France and England were not allies and could press your sailors or grab your ships. Where such a mayhem might bankrupt a whole family. But where also the Muslim privateers of North Africa were a real danger to ships and crew alike.
Part of the story is trauma and psychological treatment. The writer tells us about the groundbreaking work done in Paris in those days. I googled the names and indeed that was all true.
I liked the natural way the characters develop. When they begin to respect each other you do too. When they realise they love each other is sounds more than logical. Hell you start thinking "Can you find me a guy like that!" It is not for the people wanting an action packed novel. It is more how two people get close and then battle a big problem.
The author manages a good way of worldbuilding. You can almost picture the setting.
I know some (American) readers want to read only "clean" novels. This is a novel about two people who are married. You can expect some lovemaking but it is certainly not pornographic but an essential element in the story.
I can highly recommend the novel both to male and female readers. A 5 stars out of 5. I understand there is a sequel. That I would like to read too.
byPub Date: 21 Apr 2020
Captain Isaac McCallister, five years a slave in North Africa, has returned from the grave, and Salem has put out a wary welcome. It is 1803, and the village of Salem, once known only for the dark horrors of its witch trials, is now a cosmopolitan seaport, the richest city in America. Everyone in Salem knows that Captain McCallister lost his mind in the desert of Barbary. Isaac is a damaged man, looking for a reason to go on living. He finds it when he meets Eleanor Hampton, his step-brother's daughter, an eccentric young painter living in genteel poverty on his estate along with her mother and sister. Despite the long-standing bitterness between the two families, Isaac is bewitched by this determined, gifted woman, while Eleanor is unexpectedly drawn to him. He's not the man she expected, a coarse merchant prince who could reduce the beauty of art to the banality of dry goods. There is a gallantry in Isaac that couldn't be snuffed out by the hell of Algerian slavery. But his unexpected proposal of marriage sets dark forces out of the past into motion, resulting in a stunning betrayal and a brutal murder. And as her passion for her enigmatic husband consumes her, Eleanor finds there's no danger she's unwilling to face to save her husband from the hangman.