Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.
For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.
The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.
At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.
At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.
What a joy this book was to read! I had no expectations going into it, and was hooked from the outset. We are quickly introduced to Isabel Creston, 20 years old, living at a school whose rules she cannot quite seem to follow and immediately bringing to mind Jane Eyre and Lowood School. But Isabel is the guardian of her 8 year old half-sister Lizzie and does not get to go off to a governess position. Instead, she is taken in by relatives and some of the more Regency/Jane Austen aspects of the story (could the Aunt start off being any more Austen mother-ish?) begin to appear.
One would think this would brighten the story, and it does to some extent, but the gothic elements abound as Isabel discovers on her journey to and life at her Aunt and Uncle’s home of Emberwilde Hall. The forest in particular is a place no young lady should venture, but venture there she does and, again reminiscent of Jane Eyre and other gothic tales, meets with mischief while, in the more Austen-esque feeling portions of the novel, considering the advantages and desirability (or lack thereof) of more than one eligible male.
The villains are a bit dastardly, not everyone is quite who they appear to be, the heroine is likable and the hero is a man she can admire.
Highly recommended for those who like slightly rebellious Regency heroines, Gothic story elements, and thoroughly enjoyable Historical Christian Romance.
Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd (Treasures of Surrey #2) | Thomas Nelson, May 2016 | paperback, 352 pages
Review copy provided by The Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson, publisher.