REVIEW: A Heart Adrift by Laura Frantz
It is 1755, and the threat of war with France looms over colonial York, Virginia. Chocolatier Esmée Shaw is fighting her own battle of the heart. Having reached her twenty-eighth birthday, she is reconciled to life alone after a decade-old failed love affair from which she’s never quite recovered. But she longs to find something worthwhile to do with her life.
Captain Henri Lennox has returned to port after a lengthy absence, intent on completing the lighthouse in the dangerous Chesapeake Bay, a dream he once shared with Esmée. But when the colonial government asks him to lead a secret naval expedition against the French, his future is plunged into uncertainty.
Will a war and a cache of regrets keep them apart, or can their shared vision and dedication to the colonial cause heal the wounds of the past? Bestselling and award-winning author Laura Frantz whisks you away to a time fraught with peril–on the sea and in the heart–in this redemptive, romantic story.
Dear Ms. Frantz,
It’s hard to find good Colonial American romances these days so to like this one made me very happy and looking forward to checking out your other offerings. As I’ve tagged this with “inspirational,” I’ll go ahead and tell readers that yes there is a lot of faith in the story but that is because these are religious characters who hold their faith close but don’t preach at others. Rather they quote scripture to ease worries and grief. I enjoyed this story and its different angles. Colonials are still loyal subjects of the Crown, the war with the French is simmering but right now is still far away on the frontier, women hold down jobs, smallpox is a scourge that periodically ravages the area causing death and heartache, and Williamsburg is the seat of government. While the pace doesn’t lag, it is slower.
Henri (whose mother was French so it’s pronounced the French way) Lennox and Esme Shaw thought they were destined to be married ten years ago. But Henri has made a career in the Royal Navy after he was pressed at the age of sixteen (discovering a love for the sea) and Esme watched her mother worry and miss Admiral Shaw when he was away. At the age of eighteen, Esme issued an ultimatum to Henri: her or the sea. With saltwater in his veins, Henri sadly left (though eventually he turned over to Esme all the love letters he wrote to her during their ten years apart).
Now Esme runs the chocolate shop that was her mother’s passion as well as raises funds and donations for the almshouse to which the local indigents and orphans are sent. She’s content but not enthusiastically happy. Her younger sister Eliza is married to a high ranking British official (and Lord) in Williamsburg and expecting her first child. When Esme sees Henri in York, old feelings well up. For his part, Henri is certain that some lucky man will have scooped up Esme and, when he sees she’s still unmarried, starts to wonder if he might have a second chance with her. The colonial government has other plans for him as war looms with France and they need his naval expertise. But other dangers will appear in coastal Virginia that might block any future they have.
I loved this setting. The language and actions of the characters felt period to me – yes, even including the fact that Heni and Esme are often alone while still unmarried. I read recently (can’t remember where) that up to 1/3 of all Colonial brides were pregnant at the time of their weddings so this laxity didn’t bother me. I also liked that the issue of slavery is addressed. Esme’s family (originally from Rhode Island) is strongly against it while Henri has several Black crew members (two of whom are officers). Years ago, his ship captured a slave ship off the coast of Africa and freed the captive people on board and burned the ship – something that has earned him the emnity of many powerful Colonial planters in Virginia.
Another thing I enjoyed was the fact that women working outside the home and owning businesses is matter-of-fact. Esme eventually blows a lot of conventions out of the water but I’ll leave that discovery to readers. At this point in time, Colonials are still considered Englishmen loyal to the crown and that was the feeling I got. Two things that hit close to current issues were the smallpox epidemic that ravaged the geographic area of the book and how the destitute, homeless, orphans, and others unable to support themselves are forced to live in the almshouse.
Now for the romance. This is a quiet, mainly character focused story. Yes, events outside Esme’s and Henri’s relationship take place but the story uses those to show us things about the characters. They act as they do based on the background stories given them. Esme and Henri have never stopped loving each other but neither got hung up on that during their years apart. When they are reunited, each realizes that the other has changed – as one does over the course of ten years – and they mentally step back to see who the other person “is” now rather than immediately trying to jump into or remain outside of a relationship. But the final conflict that might affect them isn’t due to something internal but rather external and is the culmination of things that have been mentioned as the book progresses. One character surprised me a little bit in helping to resolve this and I’d love to see them get their own story at some point. This is the first book of yours I’ve read but I found myself enjoying it all the way through. B