In the tradition of Philippa Gregory's smart, transporting fiction comes this tale of dark suspense, love, and betrayal, featuring two star-crossed sisters, one lost and the other searching. Bright and inquisitive, Hannah Powers was raised by a father who treated her as if she were his son. While her beautiful and reckless sister, May, pushes the limits of propriety in their small English town, Hannah harbors her own secret: their father has given her an education forbidden to women. But Hannah's secret serves her well when she journeys to colonial Maryland to reunite with May, who has been married off to a distant cousin after her sexual misadventures ruined her marriage prospects in England. As Hannah searches for May, who has disappeared, she finds herself falling in love with her brother-in-law. Alone in a wild, uncultivated land where the old rules no longer apply, Hannah is freed from the constraints of the society that judged both her and May as dangerous too smart, too fearless, and too hungry for life.
Sexual tension and foreboding abound in this engaging but clumsy colonial potboiler. Sharrat's novel chronicles the travails of Hannah and May Powers, close English sisters who have been raised by their physician father. May is sent to Maryland in order to be married, but when Hannah arrives in the New World for a visit, she is informed by her brother-in-law that May has died following childbirth. Hannah suspects something sinister, though, and begins searching for the truth even as she becomes romantically entangled with her sister's widower. Sharratt succeeds in keeping the plot unpredictable, even as the characters, prose and dialogue are mired in cliche and awkward syntax ("How came you here?" and "Get you back to the dock" are typical examples of the novel's 17th century-speak). An over-reliance on shifting perspectives and chronological jumps also obstructs the novel's strengths, including interesting, well-researched period detail with an emphasis on food and medicine. These winning passages coexist queasily with sex scenes that seem lifted from lesser romance novels. The plot remains sturdy, however, leading to a conclusion that is well-orchestrated and satisfying. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
June 02, 2006
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