So, I love me some historical romance. When you think about that subgenre, your brain might automatically conjure high-waisted ball gowns and dudes in tight pants and fussy neckwear and the glittering ballrooms of the multitudes of romance novels set in Regency England. The fact is that there are a butt-ton of romances set in that period, and I really like some of them, but I get extra excited when I hear about a historical romance set in a different place or time. Enter Brave in Heart, set in Connecticut during the lead-up to and first few years of the Civil War.
The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:
Theodore Ward is a man of deep passions and strong principles—none of which he acts on. So Margaret Hampton ends their engagement, breaking both of their hearts in the process.
Years after their estrangement, ardent but frozen Theo attempts to reconnect with Margaret. She is no longer trusting of the idea of romantic love, having become pragmatic and wary during decades alone. But with the drumbeat of the early days of the Civil War in the background, how can she refuse?
The courtship that results is hasty, reckless, and intense, fueled by contradictions between Theo’s willingness finally to change and Margaret’s fears about the future. Two smart, stubborn, fiery people will need to overcome the hesitancies of their hearts and the perils of battle if they’re ever to find happiness.
I would never have expected a romance set amid a gritty and awful war to be believable, but this story is. (Maybe it helps that I was a history major for a few years before switching to political science.) The list of things that should work against this story (but don’t) is impressive:
- The setting… war and death and uncertainty aren’t usually synonymous with romance, but Barry incorporates the setting and shows its impact on the characters. Margaret and Theo are very much the products of their time, and it’s fitting that their story would embrace the challenges of the time period.
- The mother-in-law… Theo’s one of those older gentlemen characters who still lives with his mother and, at the beginning, still allows her to guide his life. Normally that sort of thing would be off-putting, but it isn’t, here. While Sarah (the mother-in-law) isn’t always the most sympathetic character, she’s not a villain either. She’s a mother who loves her son, and that dynamic works within the story.
- The separation of the main characters… The war divides Theo and Margaret, and they’re apart for much of the story. Normally that kind of thing would be murder on a romance plot, but Barry found a way to make it work for this story through a lovely correspondence between her characters. It helps that I have a soft spot for correspondence in books (thank you, Jane Austen), but I thought the story and character development achieved through those letters was stunning.
- The length… At about 40,000 words, this book is a longish novella or a short novel, and normally that length would work against it. There isn’t as much room for character and story development, so you kind of expect the characters to be a little bit cookie cutter. But they aren’t. The length worked perfectly for me for this story.
The bottom line is that I loved this book. It touches on some pretty interesting themes — social issues, women’s issues, marriage and family issues, the role of a wife in a marriage, issues relating to identity shifts (naturally occurring when one spouse goes off to war and the other stays behind), etc. — but it doesn’t lose sight of its focus: the relationship between Theo and Margaret. For a first book, too, it is particularly impressive. I am looking forward to seeing what else Emma Barry has in store for us.
Brave in Heart was released on July 1, 2013 as an e-book by Crimson Romance. For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads. To learn more about Emma Barry, please visit her website.
*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the author in exchange for an honest review*