In Kennedy’s debut novel, a shipping magnate and his daughter grapple with an age-old question—what’s more important: wealth or love?
John Wolcott grew up as an orphan in the dockyards of England in the early 19th century, but now he’s the rich, confident head of Wolcott Shipping. Jilted on his wedding day 25 years ago, he’s also a bachelor who doesn’t dare give a woman power over his heart again. Nonetheless, when he meets the beautiful Mary Melbourne, he feels that he must have her. Although she senses that something is off, Mary agrees to marriage in the hope that her passion will grow. It doesn’t, but the two still manage to have a daughter, Louisa. Later, at the age of 16, she’s an intelligent girl who’s grown up in the lap of luxury, but all she really wants is to please her distant father. So when Wolcott, hoping to grow his company, sets her up with a young businessman, she agrees. Louisa doesn’t love James Elliot, though, and he’s in love with someone else, a kindhearted woman below his station. However, both have ulterior motives that push them to see the union through. Meanwhile, Louisa meets an ambitious man climbing the ranks of the Royal Navy with whom she feels an odd connection. Finally, Elliot’s soft-spoken, mysterious older brother enters the picture, and his presence threatens to unravel Wolcott’s well-laid plans. Kennedy’s debut novel is, on the surface, part romance, part historical fiction, but it’s also a story of self-discovery. Overall, it’s a quick-paced, action-packed read. That said, it takes a long time to develop reader sympathy for its main characters. Wolcott, for example, is deeply unlikable, Louisa is a rather spoiled girl not above using “a well-placed tantrum” to get what she wants, and Elliot is a ruthless factory boss. It’s Wolcott’s wife, Mary, stuck in a loveless marriage but committed to making sure her daughter doesn’t make the same mistakes, whom readers will root for. A series of fortuitous events eventually sets everyone on the right tracks, but this result may come too late for some readers.
Business schemes and on-again, off-again romances will keep readers going as long as they can overlook a few unpleasant characters.