19 December 2012

Review: Love in Three-Quarter Time by Dina Sleiman

The Prologue of Love in Three-Quarter Time opens in Prince George County, Virginia, in 1812, with Constance ‘Gingersnap’ Cavendish and handsome Robert Montgomery sharing a dance at a ball, where he almost proposes. Then the Cavendish slaves revolt, and everything changes. The action then moves to Richmond, Virginia, in 1817, where the Cavendish women are struggling to survive after the loss of their plantation and the death of Constance’s father during the revolt. And Constance blames Robert for not helping.

Constance has been earning money teaching dancing, and an opportunity arises for her to travel north to teach twin girls to dance properly in advance of their coming out. But when she arrives, she finds that it is Robert’s family, and her role brings her into close contact with him, but he shows no interest in rekindling their relationship. It soon becomes apparent that there is more than just a misunderstanding keeping them apart, because Robert has a secret. But Constance is also hiding a secret--it is her fault the slaves revolted, her father was killed and their plantation lost.

As Love in Three-Quarter Time progresses, Constance in particular is challenged regarding her faith. She is forced to think about some fairly major issues, from the consequences of poor choices, the concept of salvation by grace not works, and the doctrine of free will. I thought the author handled these scenes well. I was also impressed by the historical setting—there are many books set in this time period (the Regency) in England, but few in the US, yet it was obviously a time when there was already a significant undercurrent of dissatisfaction about the wrongs of slavery.

I did find that the editing didn't meet Zondervan's usual high standard (or perhaps the quality of the manuscript is more at fault). In the first scene alone we have Gingersnap and Robert having first met three then two months ago. Martha is reading at the widow’s cabin, then she is with Constance in the Indian village. There are point of view slips and too many viewpoint characters (I thought the viewpoint and subplot around Mr Franklin particularly unnecessary).

And I wasn't convinced by the Yorkshire accent. I don't know what a Yorkshire accent sounded like in 1812, but the 'thee' and 'thou' made Constance sound more Quaker than Yorkshire. When I visited Yorkshire, I found the working class accent almost unintelligible but the middle and upper class accents were similar to the rest of England. Even when Yorkshire-born Grammy spoke, she sounded more like a character from modern ‘Coronation Street’ than one from the Bronte’s Yorkshire. So this didn’t work for me.

Overall, while Love in Three-Quarter Time was a sound novel with some excellent Christian thinking set in a fascinating time in US history, I though the writing was missing that special something that makes a good story into a great book.

Thanks to Zondervan First and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dina Sleiman at her website. Love in Three-Quarter Time is the debut novel from Zondervan First, Zondervan’s new digital imprint, and more information is available in their press release.

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