Regencies written by modern authors aren’t for me, I thought, but then along came Sarah E. Ladd and her Inspirational Regency Romances with Gothic flair and I am quickly changing my mind.
Annabelle Thorley is a young woman who bravely faces what life throws at her, pluckily doing her best in humbled circumstances as a humble assistant teacher at her estranged Uncle’s school. She soon encounters Owen Locke, widowed father of a Fellsworth School student and gamekeeper on a neighboring estate. Both become enmeshed in the intrigue involving poachers and murder, drawing them closer together. Also drawing them closer is Owen’s daughter Hannah, who manages to come off as adorable rather than precocious.
Annabelle had not realized how sheltered her old way of life was. She’d grown comfortable in her bubble of isolation, and she felt unsure of how to handle the constant presence of other people. She had thought the lack of luxury would be the hardest part of this transition, but that assumption was far from the truth. (p. 181)
Everyone and everything is not necessarily what they seem in this story. One character in particular was almost morbidly fascinating in this respect, and I quite perversely enjoyed having her true nature come to the fore.
Atmosphere is again very strongly established, with the setting enhancing the gothic feel of the narrative and almost feeling like another character, much as in the previous Treasures of Surrey novel, Dawn at Emberwilde (review).
[Owen] closed his eyes and breathed the thick summer air. He loved this land. He loved the scents. The animals. The freedom of existing in nature. Being away from it for a couple of weeks had renewed his gratitude for the life he had built for himself. But still, a single thread of restlessness pulled through him. His unusual conversation with Miss Thorley had disquieted his normal contentment. (p. 119)
This is a novel with that rare quality of writing where I don’t have to particularly like the actual story, though luckily I did. And very much so. Tightly plotted and a compulsive read, I found myself staying up late, needing to know what was around the corner for Annabelle and Owen. These are characters that really grew on me quickly, and though I enjoyed reading it right to the end, I was a bit sorry to have to let them go.
He surprised her by crossing the small clearing and sitting on the log next to her. She could feel his warmth as he neared. He rested his elbows on his knees, just like he did in the carriage ride from London. He looked down at the ground for several seconds and then focused his attention somewhere off in the distance.
“Things happen in life we cannot understand. We can only do our best and seek God’s guidance and move forward the best we are able.” he turned to look at her directly. “All will work out well in the end, Miss Thorley. You’ll see.” (pp. 186-187)
In hindsight, thoughts of du Maurier and Bronte surface around certain elements of this novel. However, while reading this and Dawn at Emberwilde, I remained immersed in the world that Ladd has created and I would happily return. Lucky for me, these are the second and third in the Treasures of Surrey series, so there is still the first to enjoy. Ladd has definitely made my (mostly mental) list of authors to continue reading.
A Stranger at Fellsworth (Treasures of Surrey #3) by Sarah E. Ladd | Thomas Nelson, May 2017 | paperback, 335 pages
I voluntarily received a finished copy for review through Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild. All opinions expressed are my own, and I used great restraint in quoting. Really, I did.
From the Publisher:
Could losing everything be the best thing to happen to Annabelle Thorley?
In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancé has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, where her estranged uncle serves as the school’s superintendent. Upon arrival, Annabelle learns that she must shed her life of high society and work for her wages for the first time in her life.
Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to purchase land he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s death, Owen begins to consider a second chance at love.
As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found. Poachers, mysterious strangers, and murderers converge at Fellsworth, forcing Annabelle and Owen to a test of fortitude and bravery to stop the shadow of the past from ruining their hopes for the future.