Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley
About the Book
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark | Release Date: August 7, 2018 | Pages: 448
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
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.
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I had such high hopes for Bellewether but unfortunately, I have fallen victim to another book whose blurb is more interesting than the story itself. I’m disappointed and to be honest a little angry. I haven’t read anything by Kearsley before so I was not aware of her formulaic approach to historical fiction (always multiple POVs that span different time periods being my main issue; see Amber’s review for a breakdown). This is definitely a beach read and if you go in expecting a light beach read I think you will enjoy this; but if you are looking for higher-level than a prettily written story with minimal romance and minimal character development you will likely be disappointed.
“Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.”
The writing of Bellewether is poetic and beautifully written. I will admit that the first chapter pulled me in immediately as I was taken in by the lyrical prose and flowery descriptions, and I thought it was really clever to set up an info dump via an interview with a reporter. Kearsley did a good job of establishing the present-day storyline in an engaging way and setting up the mysteries of the past.
The narrative is told in three points of view from two different time periods (which from the blurb was not expected):
➡️ Charlotte (Charley) Van Hoek is the present-day perspective and new curator of a museum dedicated to the Civil War local hero Benjamin Wilde (the museum is going to be housed in the family home that was built by Benjamin’s father).
➡️ Lydia Wilde is Benjamin Wilde’s sister and the rumored lover of French-Canadian soldier Jean-Philippe. She speaks no French and harbors resentment towards the French for the war and the lives lost.
➡️ Jean-Philippe de Sabran is a captured French-Canadian officer from the Marines (a group that trained with the Native Americans). Through some weird political posturing, he and another French officer are brought to the Wilde home for their Parole of Honor while they await a prisoner transfer. He speaks no English.
Despite the strong start I found myself quickly becoming disengaged from the story. One of my early notes was “so many POVs… ugh. Also, I resent being told the same story in triplicate,” which I think succinctly sums up the odd shift I felt with that time jump. When the perspective first shifts to the 1750s I found it jarring and repetitive, and I would have much rathered either had the focus on either the present day or the past. While I did appreciate learning what really happened versus local legend ahead of Charley, I didn’t find the dual time period perspectives overly engaging.
I really liked that the POV shifts were anchored by something happening… a button found in the present day shifts to when the button was lost… the rain in the present day moves into rain in the past. It was a really beautiful and unique way to tell the story but unfortunately, even with these parallels, I struggled to stay with the story and found myself largely bored. The jumping of time periods and perspectives didn’t work for me.
Initially appreciative of the descriptive narrative, as the book carried on I found the descriptions to be distracting and uninteresting, finding myself skimming pages in search of character dialog and interaction. I struggle with books that tell rather than show, and I think that is the root of my struggle with the writing style of this book.
“The only thing people liked more than a ghost story was a good love story. This one was both.”
The love story that unfolds is… weird. Lydia and Jean-Philippe have minimal interaction during the near-year that he spends with Lydia’s family during his Parole of Honor. This is largely in part to not sharing a common language and the fact that they are on opposite sides of the Seven Years War. There is no buildup or development of their romance; they just kiss once and suddenly are together forever. At like 90% I was wondering how the book was going to wrap everything up: deus ex machina. I honestly feel robbed here by the random person that comes to explain everything. I felt that the entire book up to that point was a boring lead-up to the conclusion and am bitter that I was cheated out of actually seeing what happens to the historical characters in their own POVs.
And then there is the “ghost.” I think I was most disappointed by the paranormal aspects of this book. Don’t read this expecting much of Magical Realism or the ghost stories being focused on at all… it almost felt like an afterthought and more of a way to add validation to the weird ending.
The book felt a lot longer to me than 448 pages and I found myself skimming the book quite a bit. I am not really one for romance novels but even this left me sorely disappointed because there is a lack of character development and interaction and the book is like 430 pages of flowery lead-up to a disappointing ending. While I really did not enjoy this book, I was interested enough to finish and see where the characters wound up. I think fans of Kearsley’s writing overall will enjoy this book, as well as people that are looking for a fun, flowery beach read.
Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for providing me an electronic ARC of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. Quotations were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.