With breeding, money, reputation, and good looks, it would seem Sir Edward “Ward” Fitzwilliam has it all. Yet following a brush with the paranormal at the moment his twin brother perished in a far away battle, he risked his career as a man of science to seek proof a mere “brush” is not all that remains of his brother. Ward’s gamble to publicly defend a medium amongst his circle of peers ends in disaster. He relocates to Porthkennack to pursue his scientific exploration of the inexplicable in peace and, hopefully, for redemption.
As Ward searches the small town for subjects willing to assist his experiments, he encounters Nicholas Hearn, land steward to Godfrey Roscarrock—the biggest name in Porthkennack apart from Ward himself. Borne the bastard son of Godfrey’s son and a Romany woman, Nick has always been on the fringes. Nick resents Godfrey’s life-long refusal to acknowledge Nick as his own blood. When Nick and Ward’s paths cross, it is Nick’s deep-seated distrust that causes him to project Godfrey’s inequitable behavior onto Ward.
Despite a few seemingly high-handed actions, however, Nick discovers that Ward does not view Nick as merely a servant come to do Nick’s bidding. What’s more, he learns Ward shares his same proclivities. After a night of unbridled passion, hope for a future blooms between the pair of them. Of course, all the passion in the world cannot save either of them from insensitive remarks that hit right where it hurts. That is to say, Nick feels Ward publicly tries to pull rank over him and Ward feels Nick unfairly dismisses his life’s passion for exploring the paranormal.
I found myself delightfully transported by this story. Set in mid-1850, I found Chambers balanced plot and character development with world building very well. There are little tells like scientific developments and contemporary scientists, not to mention references to their mode of dress and the mannerisms of the wealthy, peppering the prose to set the timeframe as distinctly in the Victorian era. These differences also serve well to highlight the differences between Nick and Ward.
In fact, I picked the book for Opposites Attract Week and I was not disappointed. While the manner in which I’ve summarized the story above makes stark the social differences between Nick and Ward, it’s much more subtle on page…right up until it’s not. The wealthy man/working-class man dichotomy seemingly succumbs to the power of their connection when Ward and Nick consummate their relationship, and this is after having built up a solid rapport based on mutually warm feelings. Just when Nick is starting to think that perhaps falling in with Ward may afford him the luxury to actually pursue a relationship with another man, things start to fall apart…due in large part to a few horrifying outbursts on Ward’s part. Not that Ward speaks so, well, cruelly because he truly wishes to be cruel, but he is running high on emotion and thinks he’s on the verge of attaining his long-sought after redemption.
The pacing of the events kept me turning pages. Not only is Chambers crafting the “real time” events unfolding between Ward and Nick, but she has snippets from what is called “The Collected Writings of Sir Edward Fitzwilliam, volume 1.” It serves as a delightful contrast from the main text as it gives short, first-person accounts from Ward’s past, compared to the third person omniscient narrator in the main text. Initially, I thought it just served as a way to build up some of Ward’s backstory…but the deeper into the story we go, the more intertwining these snippets of collected writings reflect back on the main text, offering reason why Ward is so obsessed with the paranormal, how he came to be at Porthkennack, and his zeal for science.
Even though only Ward has these special chapter-heading snippets and even though they serve as a portal deeper into the character, that does not by any means leave the reader with questions about Nick and his genesis. His tumultuous history is well explored in the main text, highlighting his strife growing up as the unintended son between a Cornish man and a Romany woman. All other things being equal, he’s treated mostly like a working-class man…yet there are distinct scenes where the reader is treated to the underlying ethos most people have that color how they interact with him. These threads do not overwhelm the story and serve to make Nick, by all accounts, a man who has worked and is working hard to maintain the stiffest of upper lips even in the face of blatant disregard and outright racism, a very human character.
If you like historical romances with just a touch of paranormal, you would surely enjoy this book.
Note: A Gathering Storm will release on April 17, 2017, but is available for pre-order now.