In this first of her Natchez Trace novels, Pam Hillman has penned what is easily one of my favorite works of historical fiction and definitely one of the best Christian romances I have read this year. The plot is immersive, the characters hold your interest, and the historical aspects are wrapped around everything so well that it is an almost visceral experience. Okay, so that visceral part might be a bit too gushing, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed every bit of ink on the 400 pages of this novel then read the Author’s note and smiled at her statement about the next book. May I have it now, please?
The novel starts off strong, introducing both Isabella Bartholomew and Connor O’Shea within the first few pages. She needs a man who can rebuild her home, and help give her father hope. He needs someone to buy his indenture after the death of his carpentry mentor, and agree to pay for the passage of his brothers from Ireland to the New World in exchange for five years of work.
Connor is taken aback when Isabella, the pretty young daughter of a local plantation owner, buys his indenture and braces himself to keep his distance. He quickly starts to show his heroic side, despite his determination not to – he’s been burned by a pretty face before. And so the story gets off to an intriguing start and doesn’t let up until the end.
He should know better. He did know better.
Nothing good could come of pursuing a relationship with Isabella. She was the master’s daughter, and he’d learned the hard way to stay away from a woman who chose suitors to line their pockets or their lineage. Commoners like him were simply playthings to be discarded when something bigger and better came along. (p.160)
Isabella has multiple suitors, perhaps more interested in Breeze Hill than her, and definitely not all with honorable intentions. The questions of whether the death of her brother and the injuries to her father in a fire that consumed a wing of the house were accidents or attacks soon figure into the story.
Mr. Bartholomew sighed. “Not two years hence, Jonathan would have been in the woods harvesting trees, overseeing a crew of ten–sometimes twenty–men. I saw to it that Mews had plenty of workers for the fields, and Martha and Susan ran a tight ship here at the house.
Now I can barely feed myself, and my poor Isabella is trying to patch things up that nature and the violent will of meant have destroyed.” His gaze focused on his gnarled fingers. “I’ve failed her, Connor. I’ve failed both of them and my grandchild. What’s to become of Isabella, Leah, and the babe with Breeze Hill fast on its way to ruin?” (p.110)
There are moments of respite from the drama, but danger and adventure are never far away and the mixed messages that Connor gives Isabella simply add another layer when experiencing the story. As does the motley crew that slowly assembles at Breeze Hill. I do enjoy a motley crew, and loved that this was partly due to Mr. Bartholomew’s views on slavery and refusal to have any but free or indentured workers.
He was the most insufferable servant they’d ever had at Breeze Hill. She was of a good mind to put him in his place, even though her father would chastise her if she did. He’d never talked down to the indentured servants or the day laborers, saying that men–and women–regardless of their station, should be able to prove their worth with honesty and hard work.
But still, Connor O’Shea tried her patience to the utmost. (p.113)
The action sequences were particularly well done. I could picture the highwaymen melting into the landscape to wait for their prey along the Natchez Trace, hear the crack of the bullwhip in Mr. Bartholomew’s hand as he evicts evil men from his land, and feel the terror as Isabella runs for her life.
He’d carried her to safety.
And deep in the forest when they’d been battling for their lives, he’d held her in his arms and kissed her. And the memory of the desperation in his kiss haunted her.
But he hadn’t said he loved her. Then again, neither had she. The time hadn’t been right for words, only actions, reactions, feelings, and honesty of the heart, not of the head.” (p.310)
Some reviews are difficult to write without giving away too much of the story, and this is one of them. I am so glad this will be a series, that I can experience more of this time and place as a reader, and that there is a possibility for many of these characters to return.
Highly recommended if you enjoy Historical Fiction, a romance to fall in love with, and just a thumping good story!
The Promise of Breeze Hill (Natchez Trace, #1) by Pam Hillman | Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., August 2017 | paperback, 416 pages (including a preview chapter of Hillman’s Claiming Mariah)
This review refers to a finished copy I voluntarily received from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network. All opinions are my own, the gushing involuntary but not required.
From the Publisher:
Natchez, MS; 1791
Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady.
The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured.