Not By Sight

Not By SightNot By Sight by Kate Breslin
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Bethany House on August 4, 2015
Pages: 384

 

With her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display her patriotism are met by disapproval from her father—most recently in particular, sneaking into a masquerade ball to hand out white feathers to upper class conscientous objectors. Since baling hay seems safer and less scandalous than any of Grace’s other suggestions on how she could support their country, Grace and her maid are soon sent to a Kent to bale hay for the Women’s Forage Corps. There Grace is introduced to a group of hardworking women—who are understandably sceptical of Grace’s farm skills—as well as the mysterious masked Lord Roxwood, on whose property they are based.

Lord Roxwood has little interest in the WFC volunteers who are working on his land, until one of them lets a litter of pigs ruin his rose garden and and stumbles upon him on one of the rare occasions that he’s unmasked. Recently blinded and significantly scarred as the result of an accident, Jack is struggling to come to terms with his new appearance, especially given his fiancee’s less than appreciative reaction to it. Grace Mabry quickly becomes a welcome distraction from the responsibilites of his future and his work for the government, but he can’t help but shake the feeling that Grace’s presence in his life is more than coincidental. Have they met before? How did she come to work for the WFC on his property? And does she have ties to his accident?

As Grace and Jack’s relationship draws them closer together, the harder it will be for them to trust each other when Jack’s suspicions are brought to light. Can they ever trust each other again?

I adored Kate Breslin’s debut novel and have been tentatively awaiting Not By Sight. Isn’t that the way with a second novel—you’re excited to read it, but worried that it might be overshadowed by its predecessor? Stumbling across the synopsis for Not By Sight a couple of months ago, I was pleased to learn that Kate wasn’t sticking to the WWII setting from her first novel. As much as I loved For Such a Time, I’m glad that the focus of this novel is entirely different, forcing me to concentrate on the story at hand rather than comparing the two books. If you’re looking for another For Such a Time, you’ll probably be disappointed.

If you’re interested in a WWI novel with a focus away from the trenches, a feisty but naive suffragette, and a bit of espionage, you’re in for a treat!

If you read my review of The Hourglass Factory, you’ll know that I love reading about the suffragette movement. While this book doesn’t delve too deep into the movement itself, it fuels a lot of Grace’s ideology. Grace is far from your model feminist, and at times her beliefs are heartfelt but incredibly flawed. To begin with, I felt frustrated by Grace’s attempts to help her fellow WFC workers. She had an answer to all of their problems, but often this answer was just a pat on the back and an encouragement that, when the suffrage movement had won, women would be free to do anything they wished. But as the story developed, I realised that there was a reason why Grace’s behaviour was like that of an incredibly naive fairy godmother. She’s supposed to be young and idealistic. At times, her open-mindedness and optimistim are beneficial to others—like Jack, who is scared that no woman can look at him after his accident, and appreciates Grace’s unusual outlook on life. At others times, Grace offers help but doesn’t have enough understanding to truly follow through with her aid. I appreciated this flawed side of her. She has a lot to learn—especially about those who haven’t come from such a fortunate background as hers. If Grace irritates you to begin with, please stick with her—her journey does make her a lot more likable.

Another reviewer likened Grace and Jack’s relationship to that of Beauty and the Beast, and I quite liked this comparison.

A large part of their relationship revolves around Grace driving Jack all over the English countryside and describing to him the scenes that they witness. This seems gimmicky, but given Jack’s blindness and Grace’s desire to be a novelist, it makes sense, and there are some really sweet scenes between them. Jack challenges Grace’s creativity, and she confronts some of his misconceptions about his appearance and how others perceive him. They rile each other up a lot, but seem to make a good match. I enjoyed the way in which their relationship developed, as well as the beautiful descriptions of the countryside surrounding Kent. Given that Jack is technically engaged to another woman at the start of the novel, I felt a little uneasy about the idea of him falling for Grace, but most of their relationship is very innocent, and the author approaches this issue very well.

While there are many things I like about Britain, I would never call myself patriotic. As such, I was a little wary about this aspect of Grace’s character. There are some wartime romances that have rubbed me the wrong way because of their in-your-face patriotism and blind support of the war, which often skims over the darker, grimier aspects of warfare. Not By Sight, thankfully, was not one of these novels. While Grace initially exerts blind patroitism and commitment to Britain’s part in the war, her time in the WFC slowly causes her to reconsider her attitude. Witnessing men who, like her brother, have fought in France and returned with broken bodies and spirits, Grace realises that war is about more than inspiring words and a hearty spirit—and that she may have misjudged the men whom she handed her white feathers to.

The message of this novel is neither pro- or anti-war, simply truthful about the damage and loss of life that occurs in any war.

The espionage mentioned on the back cover of this book intrigued me, but it was often overshadowed by the romance between Grace and Jack. The details about Jack’s job as a spy definitely became more prominent towards the end of the novel, but by then I already had my suspicions about a secondary character, and they turned out to be right (although I hadn’t been sure about their motivations). If you’re thinking of reading this book because of the espionage storyline, I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. The details about this part of the war are interesting, but they don’t take up a lot of the book, and several of the events at the end of the novel felt very contrived and rushed. I’m not sure if this is because I was reading an ARC, but I felt that too many things came together in too short a period of time. Given the wartime setting, the Happily Ever After was a little bit too perfect.

Ultimately, I did really enjoy Not By Sight. The romance was endearing, the subject of the WFC was intriguing, and I appreciated the friendships that Grace formed and the character growth she experienced. My biggest issue is probably the speed at which events occurred towards the end of the novel, which caused several of them to feel contrived or a little too perfect. I’m not too disappointed, but it keeps this novel from finding a place among my favourites. I do appreciate that Kate Breslin chose to explore some lesser known aspects of Britain’s war efforts, and that she chose such a wonderfully flawed heroine to explore them with. Not By Sight is certainly a unique novel, and I hope other readers enjoy its beauty as much as I did.

–Rachel


As World War I entered its third year, many of Britain’s young men had enlisted to help in the fight. However, there were some able bodied men among England’s elite who choose not to join the war effort. For privileged Grace Mabry, this is unacceptable. Since her twin brother Collin enlisted, every able man should be willing to fight for God and country so that the war will end faster. It is with this mindset that she sneaks into a posh masquerade ball and hands a white feather of cowardice to Jack Bennington, future Earl of Stonebrooke and supposed conscientious objector to the war.

Jack Bennington has a well-deserved reputation as a playboy and reprobate. However, he is anything but a conscientious objector; in fact he is secretly working for the crown tracking down German spies. But when the fiery red-headed Grace Mabry enters his world and hands him the white feather of cowardice, the momentary distraction sets off a chain of events that will eventually threaten all they both hold dear. With strong leading characters and an interesting storyline, Not By Sight is a very good second novel by Kate Breslin.

This summer I read Kate’s debut novel, For Such a Time. Aside from hearing a tremendous amount of praise for this book, the idea just sounded intriguing. So I set aside my avoidance of romance and gave it a try. As expected, For Such a Time lived up to the hype. It was excellent and I very much enjoyed Kate’s storytelling style, great characters, and intriguing plot. So I decided to give Not By Sight a try even though it sounded like it was going to have a stronger romantic element than I prefer.

For the most part I really enjoyed this book and truly most of my issues stem from the genre.

For the most part I really enjoyed this book and truly most of my issues stem from the genre. Grace and I didn’t get off to a particularly stellar start. At the beginning of the story, her self-righteous naiveté is annoying, but fortunately, her character does grow and becomes much more likable, though I won’t say I ever loved her character. While there are plenty of instances where Grace appears to have a strong belief in God and her actions seem to demonstrate that belief, it still never felt more than just superficial. This is probably why I never truly connected with her. She didn’t feel authentic though all the descriptions and pieces were there for her to feel authentic.

I loved Jack’s character and would easily enjoy another couple of books which followed his adventures during the war.

On the other hand, I loved Jack’s character. It is incredibly easy to sympathize with him during his journey and I very much enjoyed watching his character grow. His character development is not really surprising, but it’s well written and paced such that it feels natural. I would easily enjoy another couple of books which followed his adventures during the war.

Even though the storyline for Not By Sight is quite predictable, it is executed very well. This is truly my love of suspense and mystery coming out, but I really wish the people involved in the spy operation was not so obvious. A little more than 50% through the book, I knew exactly what was going to happen from there to the end and how it was going to play out. For readers more interested in enjoying the romantic storyline between Jack and Grace than the spy and war portion of this book, the lack of suspense will not be an issue. However, even knowing how everything was going to end, it was still very easy to finish the story. Kate has a wonderful storytelling voice, so reading what I already knew was not a chore.

It has been my experience with romance novels that there tends to be some areas where suspension of disbelief is necessary. Such is the case with Not By Sight. There are some parts towards the end that are well…romanticized. While these parts make for an inspirational story, I do wish some plotlines had not been pursued, as a couple were a bit cheesy. However, I totally understand why romance readers might enjoy the parts that didn’t particularly appeal to me.

The WWI setting is one I have not often visited and it was refreshing to have this war as the backdrop.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Not By Sight. The WWI setting is one I have not often visited and it was refreshing to have this war as the backdrop. I also enjoyed the characters and learning a little history along the way. With Kate’s wonderful storytelling style and ability to create a compelling story, she should have a very long career writing fiction.

–Melissa

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