The second book in the Daughters of Hampshire series, Bride of a Distant Isle follows the adventures of Annabel Ashton. Born the illegitimate daughter of a gentlewoman whose Maltese lover abandoned her, Annabel has always known that her cousin Edward is the rightful heir of Highcliffe Hall. She intends to become a teacher or governess, hoping she will not succumb to the same insanity that led to her mother being incarcerated in an asylum. But when Edward, short of money, tries to use Annabel as a pawn for his own purposes, she finds herself thrust into a disconcerting world of suitors and secrets which will turn her life upside down and perhaps uncover the truth about her origins.
Bride of a Distant Isle began a little too melodramatically for my tastes (“The gaps between Morgan’s teeth had been charming as a child but now reminded me of the widening cracks in his soul….”), but the prose soon evened out into the subtle, spare, and evocative storytelling which I enjoy so much in Sandra Byrd’s books. While the first book, Mist of Midnight, intertwined a Victorian mystery with the history of British India, Bride of a Distant Isle ties in the culture of the island of Malta. Annabel’s unknown father came from Malta–as does the handsome captain Marco Dell’Acqua whom Edward requests his cousin to entertain. Maltese customs (such as the lace cap a bride wears) provide pivotal clues in this well-researched and well-paced story.
The locked rooms, sinister poisons, forced incarcerations, and faked deaths make this book an admirable addition to the genre of Gothic romance–the sort of book about which Catherine Morland might say: “Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it.”
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.