I have a friend who is an Outlander fanatic. She re-reads the series every couple of years and the book associated with the tv series season before it is aired. For the past couple of years at Christmas, I have given her Outlander calendars and one year an Outlander cook book (which she used and it has good recipes!). Last year I wanted to introduce her to a new author. My favorite local independent bookstore gave me a couple of recommendations but I settled on Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley. When presenting the book, I commented that it would be lovely to borrow it when she was done. A few weeks ago she turned it over saying that she had really enjoyed it, and here we are!
Bellewether tells the dual story of present day Charley (Charlotte) Van Hoek, historian and museum curator, navigating a life transition due to the loss of her brother, alternating with the story of American Colonial Lydia Wilde and French Lieutenant Jean-Phillipe de Sabran, who are both also dealing with difficult life transitions. Their story is set during the during the Seven Years War, when the American Colonials were in fighting forces together with British soldiers against the French army and Native peoples.
Tying them together is a ghost story told to Charley by a Wilde family descendant. Lydia was to be married but her fiance was killed by the French. As the war continues, Lydia’s family hosts a French officer awaiting exchange. Handsome and charming, Lydia falls for the Frenchman but their relationship must be kept secret as her father would never approve a match with an enemy. They made plans to run away together and had a boat waiting. But on the fated night, there was no moon so the officer lit a lantern to show the way. Lydia’s older brother spotted the lantern from his window, confronted the couple, and shot the French officer. With her lover dead, Lydia died too from a broken heart. But on some nights, folks say you can see the the light of the Frenchman’s lantern walking the woods waiting for Lydia, to lead her to the water.
Charley upended her life by suddenly moving to Millbank, a fictionalized part of Long Island, to assist her niece Rachel through this difficult time. She had the good fortune to get a job as a curator to open the Benjamin Wilde museum (a fictional Revolutionary War blockade runner and hero), based in his childhood home. Charley left behind a boyfriend but is hopeful they can make it work long distance. During the day she struggles with some museum board members who feel she shouldn’t have been chosen for the job. At home Charley often feels helpless as she watches her niece sink into depression. When Charley hears about the legend of the sister and the French officer, it spurs her to use researching skills to find the truth within the story.
Lydia has recently lost her mother and must carry on the work of running the household for her brothers and father. In a different sense she has lost her brother, Joseph. Joseph was a survivor of a French attack on the Canadian settlement where he was working as a shipbuilder, he came home suffering and changed. Lydia is constantly walking a thin line as she tries to balance her mercurial Loyalist brother, Joseph, with her tempestuous Colonial rights leaning brother, Benjamin, who chaffs at being home bound and yearns for the wider world. Her world is turned upside down when two French officers arrive. Lydia’s Uncle Reuben volunteered his brother’s household to host the men as they await to be exchanged for British soldiers, and then return to their units. A new level of strain presses down on Lydia as her loathsome enemy, the French, are living in her home.
Jean-Phillipe is unhappy in defeat but is suffering at the unknown fate of the men in his company. As a Lieutenant, he has been separated from his men and sent to finer lodgings while waiting exchange. Jean-Phillipe is also distressed at not knowing the fate of his mother and sister in Quebec as the fighting goes back and forth between French and English. He is frustrated at the enforced idleness and the language barrier, relying on a fellow officer to translate, so he spends his time watching. He observes how Lydia deftly manages the household, while attempting to maintain peace between her brothers and keeping her father in ignorance of their actions. Jean-Phillipe sees the stress within the Wilde family and watches as his presence causes more strife. Studying Lydia, he greatly admires the graceful way she takes care of everyone and hides away her own pain.
Bellewether is a comfy book. I enjoyed the slow building romance of Lydia and Jean-Phillipe and Charley’s own romantic journey. It was fun going back in forth between Charley making a discovery and then reading about the events in Lydia’s time. There is a literal ghost in the book but it is a gentle spirit. I am pleased to report it has a lovely Happily Ever After ending. Susanna Kearsley’s blending of history with her fiction created nice depth to the story. If you like historical romance fiction, you might want to check this out.