21 March 2017

Review: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden

Not Her Best

I’ve read most of Elizabeth Camden’s novels, and haven’t had a bad one yet. She avoids the more common time and place settings for historical fiction/historical romance, and her novels often feature women in unusual settings and occupations. To the Farthest Shores is similar, set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and featuring a civilian nurse in an Army hospital as the main characters.

But the beginning of To the Farthest Shores was shaky in comparison with Camden’s earlier novels, and I found it took a long time to settle. The story starts with Jenny Bennett and Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher professing their undying love as Ryan is about to be sent to fight in the Philippines in 1898. But he doesn’t come back … and when he does—six years later—he has a daughter in tow. And he’s pretending not to know Jenny. And lying to her. We soon find out what happened in the intervening years (through a big pile of backstory), but Jenny doesn’t find out until much later in the book.

There were a lot of secrets, and that annoyed me because it disobeyed one of my felt’ rules of fiction—that we can trust our point of view characters, that they have no secrets from the reader. I love the tension that comes from a novel where the reader knows something one of the main characters doesn’t know, and we’re then waiting with baited breath for the character to find out. When will they find out? How will they react? So much room for tension … that’s removed if the reader doesn’t know what the secret is (in Jenny’s case) or even that there is a secret (in Ryan’s case).

The story included references to early military intelligence, the search for the ability to culture pearls, and even a reference to the still-present conversation around equal pay. The research seemed solid, and never overpowered the story. The one glitch I did find was mercurochrome—something I’d never heard of, so looked up. The Kindle dictionary told me was a trademark for a disinfectant, dating from the early 20th century. In fact, it was first discovered in 1918, which means Ryan was unlikely to be using it in 1904. He was clever, but not that clever.

Overall, the story showed promise and ended well, but I found Jenny and Ryan’s secrets—and the fact they both hid them—took away a lot of the tension and therefore took away a lot of the power of the story. The story lacked in any Christian content, a trend I’m not altogether happy with, and not what I expect from a major Christian publisher like Bethany House.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Elizabeth Camden at her website.


  1. Thanks for your review Iola! I have read many reviews on this book but yours really summed it up well and succinctly. I too am tired of this trend of no Christian content in Christian books. I read Christian fiction for several reasons, but that is the major reason. I hope this does not continue.


    1. I'm pleased you liked my review! It was a hard one to write, because I'd expected to love the book, and I didn't.

      I do think there is a need for books that are consistent with Christian values without being overtly Christian. But I don't think these books should be from major publishers like Bethany House, which are known and respected for their Christian fiction. If BH want to publish "clean reads" (or whatever you want to call them), I'd rather they did it under a different brand so the readers know what to expect.