16 September 2013

Review: Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

Ten years ago, Susannah Smith was rather rude towards cordwainer’s son Benjamin Ross, but now he’s a Harvard-qualified lawyer and eligible bachelor—eligible in the opinion of almost everyone. But not her mother. Susannah’s sister, Mary, is courting Benjamin’s best friend, which brings the four of them together and Susannah discovers there is more to the adult Benjamin than her childhood self knew.

Rebellious Heart starts in 1763, as the American colonists are beginning to rebel against their English rulers, and their harsh taxes, used to fund foreign wars. They also object to the presence of the Redcoats, for whom they have to provide free accommodation on request, despite struggling to feed their own families. Benjamin and Susannah’s relationship is originally rocky, as they have contrasting opinions on the role of the English and the morality of issues such as smuggling.

There is also an underlying mystery: Rebellious Heart opens at the trial of Hermit Crab Joe for the vicious murder of an unknown young woman. Benjamin Ross is speaking in his defence, convinced Joe isn’t the real murderer. But if he isn’t, who is? And when Susannah discovers a runaway, a mistreated indentured servant, she knows Benjamin is the person who will be able to help.

I liked both Benjamin and Susannah as characters. They were intelligent, opinionated and committed to doing what they believed was right. One character I didn’t related to was Susannah’s mother: I didn’t really understand why the wife of a pastor, a woman who spent a lot of her time helping the poor widows of the parish, would be so against her daughter marrying Benjamin Ross (and how she could be so unlike her own mother, Susannah's grandmother). After all, he’s a lawyer. Ross might not have a lot to offer now, but his future looks secure. (And, as this story is loosely based on the courtship of President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, he turns out very well indeed).

Some of the language is very formal (e.g. “But inexplicably she couldn’t maintain her feelings of insult,”). I can see it's attempting to portray the formality of life and speech in 1763 but I prefer the style of Hedlund's earlier novels. However, there were also words of wisdom from several of the characters, including this gem from Susannah’s Grandmother:

’Tis exceedingly easy to get caught up in the way things have always been done and never question if that’s the way they should continue.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as Unending Devotion, but it’s still one I’d recommend for lovers of historical fiction and historical romance.

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

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