REVIEW: Redeeming Gabriel by Elizabeth White
Dear Mrs. White,
/>In a historical book world filled with Regency this, Norman knight that and followed by kilted Highlanders mangling brogue it’s nice to occasionally find a story with a different setting. There’s been a dearth of American set historicals recently. One which I hope this book will help remedy.
Camilla Beaumont has worked for the Underground Railroad for years beginning even before war divided the country. It’s something she keeps hidden from her family since they’re prominent citizens in Mobile, Alabama. While on one of her after midnight missions, she literally bumps into Gabriel Laniere one dark night but it’s not until the two meet socially that each puts two and two together. Getting cozy with Camilla’s family promises to provide Gabriel with perfect spying opportunities. Someone in this town knows about the secret underwater contraption the Confederate forces had to abandon when New Orleans fell and he means to find them – and it.
“Redeeming Gabriel” has enough gravitas for the subject (Underground Railroad and Civil War) but is told with a sly, subtle sense of humor that had me laughing. Gabriel and Camilla, despite the difference in their sizes, are well matched with each other. I like that you don’t allow either one to dominate the other as so often happens in historical novels. I love that the plot makes sense based on the historical information regarding the South’s efforts to design, build and pilot a submarine. And of course what war would be complete without spying? Gabriel is good at what he does and Camilla has worked out an almost foolproof way to move about the city at night. As so often is the case, less is better and what you can hide in plain sight will go unnoticed.
I like that Camilla stays true to her first love and betrothed – Harry Martin – long after she meets Gabriel. It shows honor on her part as well as depth of affection. When she finally does acknowledge her feelings for Gabriel, I believe that she’s made a real commitment to him and that it will last.
I was amused that neither one is initially bowled over by the other, either in looks or actions. But over the course of time, each discovers that the other is the only one for them. Diron Laniere is totally upfront with Camilla about his nephew and she knows she’ll have to keep on her toes around him. I like that she goes into their relationship with her eyes wide open. As well, Harry knew Gabriel in medical school and has his own warnings for Camilla. Oh, and thank you for not turning Harry into some kind of a monster in order to show a sharper contrast between him and Gabriel. Gabriel looks good to Camilla on his own terms and as his own man – he doesn’t need another man turned black for Camilla to fall for him.
Since this isn’t a cabin romance, the other people who populate the book have to work for me as well and these do. I like all the secondary characters – Delia, Lady, Portia, Byrd, Mr. Beaumont – poor henpecked man that he is. Camilla’s brothers, Jamie and Schuyler tease her as loving brothers would but also take her a little for granted – also as brothers will do, especially nineteenth century ones who haven’t been raised to respect female intellect. Which is one reason she stays true to Harry and another that she falls for Gabriel. Both look beyond her facade and take the time to really know her. And as the men in her life often rue – who’s ever truly been able to get her to do what they want?
One of my bugaboos is the Romance Father. Often he’s a buffoon or witless for the sake of the plot. But while Ezekial Beaumont might be a dominating nineteenth century father who may not appreciate his daughter’s intelligence as much as he should, he does love her unconditionally and isn’t going to make any quick decisions about her betrothal. And he’s got a stiff warning, involving becoming shark bait, for any man who might not cherish his only daughter for the treasure she is.
The conflict between these two isn’t a silly misunderstanding. It’s not something that a 5 minute talk will clear up. Gabriel’s trying to sabotage something in which her father has invested all the family money and which Jamie is going to pilot. Camilla, even though she’s an abolitionist and has worked for the Underground Railroad for four years, is a Southerner and wants the South to win the war. She has some growing up to do as far as the reality of blockade running and universal emancipation of the slaves is concerned. She wears glasses which sometimes are rose colored but she does face up to reality and makes her hard choices.
Gabriel has his own crisis of conscience when he discovers that his closest blood kin is involved with building the submarine. He’s also torn about his growing feelings for Camilla – does he stay true to the Union even if he knows it will endanger and ruin her family?
Camilla is a woman of faith who does pray for the redemption of Gabriel. However, it’s not a preachy, overdone thing but more a natural extension of her day to day faith. Gabriel takes a while to relocate his lost faith and it takes the efforts and prayers of more than one person to accomplish that. He has a cynical edge that is a product of what he’s doing – spying – and his background from a poor, half-Creek family.
The story ends with the war still raging. I think Camilla and Gabriel both know that tough times are still ahead but I believe in these two and the feelings they find and have for each other. And I’m happy that Harlequin is still taking chances with settings other than the Tried and True same old, same old. B+