Review: Bellewether

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bellewether is set during a period of US and Canadian history that I honestly didn't know that much about. We've all heard about the French Indian War, and how it became part of the Seven Years War in Europe, pitting the British (and therefore American colonists) and Prussians against the French and Austrians, a little more than a decade before the colonies in America declared independence. What I didn't know about were some of the capricious particulars of the effects of the Seven Years War, for instance the fact that French/French Canadian officers were held as prisoners of honor (what a term) in stately American homes. The Wilde family home on Long Island New York becomes guest to one Lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran de la Noye. The only daughter in her family, Lydia Wilde, who recently lost her fiancé in the fighting is struggling to overcome her dashed hopes. Her artwork is some of her only solace. The Wilde family is a colorful one, with her brother Benjamin being a well-known patriotic privateer on his famous sloop the Bellewether. Rumor has it that Lydia and the handsome Jean-Phillipe fell in love and were caught by Lydia's brother Joseph, who killed Jean-Philippe and buried him in an unmarked grave in the Wilde family plot. Jean-Philippe's heartbroken (again) lover was rumored to have died not long after, with a notation in family documents about her burial. Lydia's bereaved ghost reportedly haunts the Wilde home, which, in modern times, has become a museum.

Charlotte "Charley" van Hoek is related to the Wilde family and takes over the curator position in the museum after her brother Niels' untimely death. Though not a believer in ghosts, Charley is haunted by the history of the Wilde family and the Wilde home during the period of the Seven Years War. While much focus has always been on dashing Benjamin, Charley becomes fascinated with Lydia's story, including her artwork, while adjusting to her new position with the Wilde museum, caring for her college-bound niece, Rachel, and getting to know the contractor working on a project at the museum, Sam Abrams. Charley's instinct that there is so much more to the story than what rumors say turns out to be accurate. The true story of Lydia and Jean-Philippe is far more interesting.

This was an engaging read. While I usually shy away from romance, including historical romance, the historical elements of this book (some of which are drawn from Kearsley's own family history) are so well-researched and rendered that the romance elements became secondary. Although there are some aspects of magical realism to the story, they are entirely superseded by the story's historical elements.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Landmark in exchange for an honest review.

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