A Cornish Betrothal by Nicola Pryce
Amelia Carew is celebrating her twenty fifth birthday in Cornwall, 1798. She is wondering if her new love, Dr Luke Bohenna, will propose marriage, after some time of courtship. There is one consideration; she was in love with another young man until she was told of his death. This historical romance is steep in the atmosphere of a locality familiar with life at sea, with naval officers, sailors of all sorts, a community involved with the insuring ships, receiving goods and helping with those affected by war. This powerful novel has much to say about the place of women in society and the importance of marriage in their lives, but also depicts some women who are unusual in their interests. Amelia is a woman who is very knowledgeable about the healing power of plants, especially herbs. In that respect this book overlaps with another by Pryce, who has obviously gained a wide knowledge of historic medical uses for plants as well poisonous possibilities. A solid knowledge of the area is eident, as well as the transport favoured by the genteel classes of the times. Not that research ever intrudes on the narrative in a negative way, but Pryce has obviously immersed herself in the small details of life in the late eighteenth century. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.
Amelia’s life in her happy family has been marked by her long time love for Edmund Melville, a young neighbour from a large house, son of a baronet. She grew up in the area in the company of Edmund and his cousin Francis. They were deeply in love, but for complicated family reasons Edmund joined the navy, and went away to sea . Since then Amelia was told of his death, which was confirmed by her godfather, and for the past eighteen months she has thrown herself into planting and caring for a herb garden. Distributing medicinal herbs and other charitable works has brought her into contact with a local doctor, and they have discovered a mutual attraction. Just at the point when everyone expects a declaration, Amelia receives a letter from Edmund, who has been a prisoner and very ill. In getting the letter translated Amelia makes another contact. Visiting Edmund’s childhood home she discovers that his mother is very ill and his sister Constance is threatened with an arranged marriage. Amelia becomes determined to keep her promises to Edmund and become his wife, but there is something very disturbing about him on his return beyond his scars and symptoms of trauma. As Amelia struggles to decide if she should honour her promises to Edmund, she cannot forget her love for the devoted Luke.
This is a powerful and emotional book which deals with romance in a realistic way as it portrays problems faced when more than one person is attractive. There are some fascinating historical details of naval life in the period, as well as family issues, commercial details and the political realities of French prisoners. The herbal recipes and knowledge are carefully inserted and made relevant as an important part of Amelia’s life. I found this an exciting and fascinating book, full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing throughout. While characters from another book inhabit this story, this is very much Amelia’s narrative as supported by other memorable characters. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in well written historical fiction, especially with the focus on strong women, in an exciting setting.