Following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, a tall Scotsman named Alex MacKinnon is given the merciful sentence of indentured servitude in the New World. Bound to Edmund Carey, a plantation owner, he learns the trade of blacksmith, nursing a bitterness against both God and his circumstances. Even the itinerant preacher, Reverend Pauling, can’t convince the Scot that God is both perfectly sovereign and perfectly good. Can Alex wait seven long years for his freedom, or will he seize the opportunity to escape into the wildnerness?
The one bright spot on the plantation is Joanna Carey, the stepdaughter of the plantation owner. She has a dream to give up the family’s luxurious life, built on the back of slaves, and live in simplicity but equality. Joanna’s stepfather, however, has no such intentions. To continue the legacy of the plantation, he is determined to wed her to his overseer, Phineas Reeves. Reluctant to acquiesce to her stepfather’s wishes, Joanna feels a gentle pull to the strong and silent Alex MacKinnon. If only he would accept the teachings of Reverend Pauling and give up his anger at God!
When misfortune after misfortune strikes the Carey home, Joanna learns that not everyone has her family’s best interest at heart. Alex is blamed for the disasters, and she must decide whom to trust. As the darkness swirls deeper and deeper around the plantation, misfortune turns into a fight for survival that keeps the reader turning pages till the very end.
This book started out as an understated adventure in the eighteenth century wildnerness. The setting reminded me of S.K. Keogh’s book, The Driver’s Wife. Alex MacKinnon interested me from the first, his losses in the aftermath of Culloden painting just the right amount of sympathy for his character. Joanna, having assumed the role of mistress of the house at a young age, was a competent housekeeper but still young enough to be shy and awkward around Alex. The story had all the makings of a simple, sweet romance until the villain of the piece was revealed, and what a villain he was! In the last third of the book, the tension tightened like a noose. Alex, thankfully, got over his peevishness with God in time to be the hero that Joanna needed.
One interesting thing about the novel is that the author based many of the characters off of a New Testament story–I won’t tell you which one–transposing that tale to the early days of the Americas. The connection was cleverly done, something I didn’t recognize until the very end, at which point it made complete sense. I look forward to reading more titles by Lori Benton.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions in this review are my own.