A Spanish servant accompanies her socially-conscious English mistress to an island in the West Indies, where both find new loves on a plantation.
After surviving a scandal that wasn’t her fault, Maria Alvarez is glad to join pretty, prissy Sarah Romford on her journey to St. Edmund’s Island, where Sarah’s new husband, Matthew, a plantation owner, awaits her. The marriage is hardly a love match, as Sarah is more concerned with currying favor among her intolerant peers and hosting fabulous get-togethers than sharing in her husband’s quest to educate the island’s slaves. The intellectually sophisticated, compassionate Maria is more to Matthew’s taste, and she to his, though they spend their initial time together denying their mutual attraction and focusing negatively on each other’s pride and headstrong nature. The charade eventually collapses, however, and the two begin a torrid affair. Sarah begins her own tryst with Jacob, Matthew’s cousin, who was raised as Matthew’s brother–though Jacob’s own mother was a black slave. The author’s style is often flowery and overwritten, particularly during the more romantic scenes–â€œBeneath the gratitude lay his love, as the ocean lies beneath the salt foam”–and many of the characters suffer from crippling stereotypes: â€œMaria’s Spanish temper”; and Jacob, a â€œhandsome mulatto” whose â€œprowess” draws Sarah’s curiosity. Sarah’s consuming desire to remain queen of her social sphere, as well as her indifference toward the plight of the island’s slaves and her fraternizing with the staunchest adversaries to their freedom, strains the credibility of her relationship with Jacob. Nonetheless, the intriguing backstory and brisk pacing will keep the pages turning.
A florid but energetic romance.