“John Barns?” Who was John Barns? And how did he figure into any of this?
Her brow puckered. “John Barns. Your father.”
John Barns was a name I’d never heard. It sounded like one of those men my father always made fun of. One of those stolid, serious men of good character and very little imagination. Ezra Pennyworth – or Pennwith or Penfield or Pennman, depending upon the situation – couldn’t be a John Barns, could he?
“I’m sorry, my dear. It must pain you to hear me speak of such things. He was your father after all. I’ll try to remember that. Only please don’t think the worst of us if it seems as if we cannot speak of him charitably.”
It didn’t pain me to hear her words, it just . . . it . . . unnerved me. Unanchored me. Set me drifting. To think that the man I had spent my life looking up to was just a . . . a . . . a John Barns! If I didn’t know these basic facts about him, if I’d never known his real name, then what else didn’t I know?
Was this what it felt like to fall prey to one of my father’s schemes? To place all of one’s hope and one’s trust in his words and then to find out that they meant nothing? That he was nothing?
My father had told me so many things through the years, given me countless pieces of advice. I’d secreted them away in my soul, every one of them, as if they were treasures. I’d been hoarding them as one would jewels, but . . . “I’ve been so wrong.”
“I don’t know anything anymore. I just don’t-” I choked on my own sobs, on the tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Hush. You’ll be fine. I’ll help you.”
I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. And then I was laughing through my tears. “You’ll help me?”
“I’ll help you. I will.” She was quite serious.
A blind girl would help me? Lucinda Pennyworth . . . rather Lucinda Barns? My soul wavered between hysteria and despair. But I knew, as surely as I’d ever known anything, that Phoebe would. She would help me. And that was worst of all. I was so unfit for normal life that the only person I could count on was a girl even more unsuited to it than I. She would help me not because I deserved it – heaven knew I didn’t – but because she was a kind and decent soul.
Which only served to underscore that I was not.
I never had been, even at my best.
Would I ever be?
Lucinda Pennyworth, the daughter of a con man, is trying her best to leave her father’s sordid past behind her. When he dies unexpectedly, she takes the opportunity to move to West Point to live with her aunt, ready to take on a new life and determined to marry a respectable man, a West Point cadet, to impress her relatives.
Seth Westcott, a cadet at the academy, is proud to be at the top of his senior class. But when his mother dies and his sister loses their inheritance to a swindler, Seth wants nothing more than to head west to track down the con man. But the army will only send the cadets at the bottom of the class to the frontier . . . which leaves Seth with some tough choices.
When a woman trying her best to be good meets a man determined to be anything but, can there be hope for love, or will two lonely hearts be condemned to casual flirtation?
Not having read any of Siri Mitchell’s books before, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. So many historical romances seem lacklustre to me these days for a variety of reasons: flat characters, clichéd plot lines, too much expository writing, and so on. Fortunately, none of these descriptions applied to this novel. I was also concerned that a plot with a character deliberately sabotaging his academic performance would, in turn, sabotage my enjoyment of the story. It didn’t.
Seth was an endearing character: quiet, studious, reliable, affable. I’m still not sure I could have sabotaged my marks and my reputation as he did, but there was a kind of dry humour in both the matter-of-fact way that Seth’s friends go about helping him lower his status at the academy, and Seth’s phlegmatic responses. Here he is, the top of his fellow cadets, trying, but failing to be less conscientious, and reliant on the efforts of notoriously un-conscientious cadets who are surprisingly conscientious about helping him succeed . . . at failing! And if you followed that explanation, hats off to you! But seriously, despite their lack of academic application and the misguided nature of their endeavour, Seth’s friends were genuine, well-rounded, and likeable characters, and made for a great supporting cast.
I also thought Lucinda’s journey of self-discovery was well done. Over the course of her time in West Point she learns that she really doesn’t know much about her parents at all, and she begins to question everything that her father has told her. The irony is that while Lucinda wants to distance herself from her former way of life and be seen as a respectable young lady, she is only just beginning to understand how truly unrespectable her father’s way of life was. And while she is working hard at becoming respectable, Seth seems to be working equally hard at becoming unrespectable.
I will admit that I suspected how some elements of the story would develop, but this tended to build my anticipation rather than spoiling the story, and in the end I was still taken somewhat by surprise. I was impressed by the way in which both Seth and Lucinda faced the consequences of their choices. The author didn’t magic them away, but at the same time they had the hope that God could still turn their mess to their benefit. As Colonel Lee says to Seth: “Some decisions you can’t recover from once they’ve been made, but a smart man always finds a way to make the most of what’s been done – to manage those things he can’t change.”
The spiritual aspect of Lucinda’s journey is not a prominent part of the plot, although it hovers in the background. Personally, I thought it could have been brought out a little more than it was, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the novel. It was a nice way to spend a few hours and I’m of a mind to check out some of Siri Mitchell’s other books now.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 1 March 2016 (available on Kindle now!)
Publisher: Bethany House
Author’s website: http://www.sirimitchell.com/