Monday, 5 March 2012

Words Spoken True - Ann H. Gabhart


PROS: Unconventional father figure; excellent historical detail; perfect portrayal of romance and chemistry between the hero and heroine

CONS: Romance relies too much on the premise of “love at first sight”

Adriene Darcy has worked alongside her father in the printing room for his newspaper since she was a young girl, and now that she’s of an age to be married, she would still rather be setting type than attending balls and society functions. But her father has different ideas, and when the son of one of Lousville’s most prestigious families asks for her hand in marriage he readily agrees, without Adriene’s consent. Adriene has no desire to be married off, especially to Stanley Jimson, who isn’t as safe and gentle as he initially appears. The only other person determined to keep Adriene from marrying Stanley is Blake Garrett, the editor of the rival Lousville newspaper. He doesn’t trust Stanley, and even if Adriene is the daughter of his rival, Blake can’t deny the attraction he feels for her. When the actions of the Know Nothing party stir up political unrest at the local elections Adriene and Blake are thrown together, as Adriene’s father ends up in the middle of the chaos and Blake’s newspaper office is attacked by those who oppose his political beliefs. Can they, and their respective newspapers, survive the tumult ripping Louisville apart?

Prior to Words Spoken True I had only read one novel from Ann H. Gabhart, and that was The Outsider, the first book in her Shaker series. I’d initially expected that The Outsider would be a standard romance novel, in a similar vein to Amish fiction, and was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the historical detail that the book contained.  While some people may just read historical romances for the old-fashioned style of courtship and relationships that they present, I prefer my historical novels to actually contain some history. Words Spoken True certainly lived up to the expectations that The Outsider had set and satisfied the historian in me. The novel had the added bonus of detailing several aspects of the printing process which I had studied about the previous semester at university, so I can vouch that Ann has done her research in this department.

This is certainly not a book for those who want their historical novels to give a couple of passing references to outdoor toilets and wagon trains and little more, but neither is it alienating to those of you who aren’t studying for your undergraduate degree in History. The issues that Words Spoken True discusses regarding the Know Nothing party and immigration are ones that I imagine every American reader has some basic knowledge of from high school history, and if not, Ann briefly outlines the issues discussed in a foreword to the book. But the authenticity that the novel evokes is worth the attention to detail in Words Spoken True, which helps the reader to become invested in the political rivalries that play out throughout the novel.

I was slightly surprised to find that Ann presented Adriene’s father as a follower of the Know Nothing ideology who was scornful of immigrants, as it didn’t fit the typical image of fathers that is put forth by historical romances. In a way, it was a pleasant change to have a father who wasn’t a hundred-percent supportive of his daughter, nor a model, politically-correct citizen in the twenty-first century sense. While my father never tried to marry me off to the son of his business partner, I’ll admit that he isn’t perfect, and sometimes the parents in historical romances do seem a little too perfect in the way that they support their children. Especially in a period when women were still seen as somewhat of a commodity, it’s probably quite realistic that Wade Darcy didn’t agree with his daughter staying home and working at the family business forever and wanted to see her married by a certain age. And the fact that he supported the Know Nothing party reminds readers that those who shared such beliefs weren’t necessarily monsters; a trap that it is far too easy to fall into when we’re viewing events in hindsight.

Romance fans need not fear, for the romantic aspect of this novel isn’t neglected amidst all the historical detail and political unrest. I did feel that the romance between Adriene and Blake was a bit slow to start, and that because they spent so little time together initially it seemed like their relationship relied too much on the “love at first sight” idea. Personally, I’m never a fan of “love at first sight” romances and prefer relationships that blossom slowly over time to those that are hastily jump-started due to intense chemistry. Adriene and Blake’s relationship did do a sudden jump forward partway through the book, but it was actually at this point that I started to really like their relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that the way that Ann portrayed the romance and chemistry between Adriene and Blake reminded me of the edginess of the relationship between the newly married couple in Kelly Long’s Lilly’s Wedding Quilt. There’s nothing at all inappropriate or explicit in Words Spoken True, and I commend Ann for portraying a loving yet intense romance with an appropriate amount of sexual tension. Although I was initially sceptical about Adriene and Blake’s relationship, this part of the story more than made up for it.

While I’m not a fan of romances which rely on the concept of “love at first sight” and do wish that readers had been given more time to see Adriene and Blake’s relationship developing, I found that the more I thought about this book after I finished it, the more I loved it. Not only was the historical detail of Words Spoken True well-researched, but it propelled the story forward with each event and made for an unconventional but incredibly engaging romance. If you like the history in your romance novels to be more than just a backdrop and to subtly weave in and out of the plot, then Words Spoken True is definitely the novel for you. The combination of the depth of the historical detail and the edginess of Adriene and Blake’s relationship gives me high hopes for Anna’s forthcoming novels.

Review title provided by Revell.

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