Bride of a Distant Isle

Bride of a Distant IsleBride of a Distant Isle by Sandra Byrd
Series: Daughters of Hampshire #2
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Romance
Published by Howard Books on May 22, 2016
Pages: 352

 

About Bride of a Distant Isle (from the back cover):

Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.

Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.

She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?

And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?

After reading the first two novels in the Daughter of Hampshires series, I have moved Sandra Byrd onto my list of authors that I will always read. Bride of a Distant Isle is a delicious concoction of history, mystery and romance. I love how each of those pieces interact with one another throughout the story; one is never overshadowed by the other. There is also a good bit of suspense and tension that made this book nearly impossible to put down. Sandra excels in creating an intense atmosphere, deftly weaving a tone of hope throughout this gothic tale.

Sandra excels in creating an intense atmosphere, deftly weaving a tone of hope throughout this gothic tale.

I love the look at different cultures that this story and the first book provide. Annabel is the daughter of an Englishwoman and a Maltese father. Her heritage and that of Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua provide a compelling cultural background. As an illegitimate daughter, Annabel’s future is not her own, but depends on her cousin Edward. The mystery of her legitimacy is a dangerous thing for her to attempt to uncover. Annabel is in a precarious position, and the reader truly doesn’t know which characters to trust and which ones is a threat. Not only does her supposed illegitimacy put her at a disadvantage, but she must fight the stigma of being the daughter of a woman that perished in an insane asylum.

Annabel’s helplessness is frustrating to modern readers, yet feels true to England in the 1850’s, a time when a woman’s pedigree and family background were of utmost importance.

Annabel’s helplessness is frustrating to modern readers, yet feels true to England in the 1850’s, a time when a woman’s pedigree and family background were of utmost importance. The first-person narration is always consistent to her character and makes this a very personal tale. Annabel’s heritage and parentage make her diminutive in her family’s eyes, yet she continues to hope that they have her best interest at heart. Complicating her situation even more is the appearance of mysterious Maltese items, beginning with a necklace that hints at her legitimacy. As the story continues, she realizes this isn’t the case – she must find fortitude within herself, and her strong faith is tested to its limit. Her inner strength is admirable and entirely believable.

Whether it was mist-shrouded estate home of Highcliffe, a Victorian asylum, or the Great Exhibition in London, the different settings always feel authentic.

Whether it was mist-shrouded estate home of Highcliffe, a Victorian asylum, or the Great Exhibition in London, the different settings always feel authentic. Sandra’s meticulous research shows through the time period specific descriptions of the setting; the unique details of Maltese traditions and the sad nature of life for the institutionalized are just two of the fascinating pieces of this story.

The ending is one of the best that I’ve read this year. Though the hero of the story is mysterious and dashing, the romance endearing and their chemistry evident, Annabel is her own rescuer, in a way that is both fantastic and realistic. It is wholly her story, one that is complemented by a tender romance, but not overpowered by it.

I am eager to meet the next “Daughter of Hampshire” in book three and am a happy reader for having found such a gem of an author in Sandra Byrd. Richly complex, atmospheric and compulsively readable, Bride of a Distant Isle is one of my favorite reads of 2016 and one I highly recommend to readers of historical fiction.

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