July 1778, Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania: A group of American militiamen—one of them carrying a heavy leather satchel—is captured by British soldiers. The satchel-bearer escapes and leaves the rest of his regiment behind, since the mission he’s been entrusted with trumps everything else. Unfortunately for him, one of his compatriots is considerably less honorable: Sergeant Anders is stabbed and left for dead in a miserable swamp, and Private Silas Clayton makes off with the satchel, which is never seen again....
June 1867, Catawissa, Pennsylvania: 17-year-old Verity Boone returns to her hometown after her mother’s death 15 years ago. She’s engaged to Nate McClure, a young man she’s never met in person—a young man who wooed her with thoughtful letters and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—and she’s feeling all of the feels you’d expect: excited, hopeful and a bit apprehensive.
I love Verity, who is, like many other historical heroines, somewhat modern-minded. She is socially conscious; somewhat combative and argumentative; she’s very sure of herself and her own abilities; doesn’t worry overly much about what others think of her; and declares on more than one occasion, “I never faint!” At the same time, though, she’s very much a product of her time: She wears a corset and is horrified by the idea of human corpses used for medical instruction, and more uncomfortably—for herself as well as the reader—despite all of her silent fuming about the casual, everyday bigotry of the residents of Catawissa, a moment of terror reveals that she has an ingrained streak of racism, too. (To her credit, she is absolutely horrified and immediately sets to work Changing Her Own Attitude.)
I love the mystery, which involves suspicious deaths (or maybe un-deaths??), allegations of witchcraft, lots and lots of family secrets and a king’s ransom in gold coins. I loved that while I was pretty sure of the villain’s identity early on, I didn’t figure out the hows or the whys until much later, even though Salerni provided all of the necessary clues.
I love the slow build of the pacing, which is in keeping with the semi-Gothic atmosphere.
I love the setting, which is a small town in which everyone not only knows everyone, but their business and the business of their ancestors. It’s a place where grudges last generations, and where everyone’s a storyteller. Oddly enough, at moments, it reminded me of Anne Shirley’s Avonlea in Anne of Green Gables. Or, well, a much less wholesome version of it.
I love the love story, which is the antidote to instalove. Without getting too spoiler-y about it—there IS a love triangle, but as we’re dealing with an arranged marriage, the triangle works because it allows us to see Verity really, truly, make her choice—it’s a love that grows slowly and steadily, and Salerni highlights the joy of falling in love with an extended family as well as with a future mate.
AND. I love the Author’s Note, in which Salerni reveals her inspiration: A pair of mysterious caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania! She even used the women’s real names and epitaphs in the story. SO. COOL.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.