“The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.”
It’s late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.
Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley’s latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you’ve closed the last page.
Review of Bellewether
Bellewether is different from other Susanna Kearsley books I have read in that there is no supernatural tool to unveil the past (time travel, ancestral memories, psychometry, to name a few I’ve run across in Ms. Kearsley’s writings). The main character, Charley is a museum curator and researcher and uses the artifacts, memoirs, and oral history to find the truth about what happened in the past.
She does this from her job at the Wilde House Museum. I mentioned that Charley uses just plain good detective skills to reveal the Wilde House past, but that does not mean there are no ghost stories associated with it. It is the telling of one such ghost story that seems to kick off Charley’s fascination with what happened in the years before the Revolutionary War. The ghost story involves Lydia and Jean-Philippe and their tragic love story. Some say you can still see the ghost today.
As an American, the Revolutionary War and it’s outcome was an integral part of my studies in school. We barely covered the history leading up to it. Bellewether is divided between current day and that time leading up to the Revolutionary War – The French and Indian War. So, like all of Ms. Kearsley’s books, the reader is offered a bit of history from a viewpoint not covered in school.
The book seesaws between current day and Lydia’s time, telling two separate stories. Chapter headings are character names, guiding you to perspective and to time setting. The current day chapters are all from Charley’s perspective, but the historical chapters are from Lydia’s and Jean-Philippe’s perspective.
I found Jean-Philippe to be one of the more interesting characters. He is a French officer, basically under house arrest in a place where nobody speaks French and he does not understand English. Jean-Philippe is observant though, and he learns by watching, helping with work, and eventually learning a few words of English.
Back in the present day, Charley lives with Rachel, her niece. Niels, Charley’s brother and Rachel’s dad had recently died, so Charley was taking care of Rachel. There is also a museum board of directors, some of which love Charley and a few that don’t like her one bit. And there is a grandmother that lives in town that disowned her father. And Sam.
Sam is the contractor that is restoring the Wilde House. He is also an all round handy man, dog rescuer and always-there-when-you-need-him type of a guy. There is a very understated thing going on between Charley and Sam. I like that it was understated. I really wanted to find out what happened in the past, rather than the present.
The book gets its title from a boat owned by the Wilde family. Bellewether was the ship captained by Benjamin Wilde, who made his mark as a privateer with that ship. The Wilde House Museum was meant to focus on Benjamin Wilde’s life, but as the ship had a life before Benjamin sailed on it, so too did the Wilde House. Bellewether’s role in the lives of Lydia and Jean-Philippe is slight, but important.
If you read Bellewether, do not skip the author’s ‘About the Characters’ section at the end of the story. Kearsley’s meticulous research leads the reader to believe that Lydia and Jean-Philippe really existed. In fact, the historical characters are a mixture of truth and invention. Kearsley’s skill in combining history with a really good story always entertains and Bellewether is no exeption.
Through NetGalley, the publisher provided a copy of this book so I could bring you my honest review.
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