Sometimes you come across a novel on your TBR at JUST the perfect time. Don’t get me wrong, my favorite genre is mystery/thriller, but sometimes you just want a change. “The mistress of Tall Acre” filled a need for me. I loved it!
A delightful cross between “Jane Eyre” and “Gone with the wind”, this historical love story was well researched, and kept me turning the pages despite other things I had to do.
Set in the years directly following the American Revolution, the novel is set on a five-thousand acre Virginian plantation – Tall Acre.
The male protagonist, Seamus Ogilvy, served as a patriot under the direction of General George Washington. By the end of the eight years of fighting and unimaginable hardship he too has garnered the rank of General. He returns to Tall Acre to find his plantation has suffered much over the years. His fragile wife, Anne, is dead, and his little daughter, Lily Cate is living with Anne’s sister in Williamsburg. When he goes there to bring her back home he is turned away, so he takes the tiny girl by force in dead of night.
Lily Cate is afraid of her father. She has no memory of him, and she is squeamish about his war injuries. A lonely little girl, she wanders the grounds of Tall Acre. This is how she meets Sophie Menzies, a young woman who lives in the neighboring estate. Sophie too is desperately lonely. She has suffered much during the war. Her dear mother has died, her brother never returned from the fighting, and her father was a ‘turncoat’ who sided with the Loyalists and absconded back to Scotland. Now it is just her and two loyal servants living on her 1000 acre estate. Food is scarce and money even more so.
Sophie and Lily Cate strike up a friendship. Seamus meets the neighbor his little daughter talks about non-stop. He finds her stalwart and kindly, and he is grateful for the attention she pays to his little girl. She has brought play and joy back into Lily Cate’s life.
Sophie is shunned by the townsfolk and neighbors due to her father’s political leanings. She cannot find work, and her estate is to be sold for back taxes. Seamus comes to her aid in exchange for some secretarial duties and time spent with Lily Cate.
Though Sophie comes to love General Ogilvy, she is very intimidated by the war hero that he is, and she feels repulsed by the fact that he is a slaveholder. It is only Lily Cate who brings any joy to her life.
Sophie, and several other characters in the novel were Scottish immigrants. I was fascinated to come across many Scots terms while reading such as: glaikit, braw, meirleach, peely-wally, camshauchle, loosome, pinchbeck, and the like.
The relationship of Sophie and Seamus has many trials and tribulations, but the author focuses on the story of the magnificent “Tall Acre” so much that the book doesn’t seem overly ‘mushy’ or ‘romantic’. Under Sophie’s influence, Seamus arranges ‘manumission‘ for all fifty-two of Tall Acre’s slaves. The story also focuses on the many servants (who were once slaves) and briefly touches on their social conditions.
I was also very interested to read of the social customs and clothing worn during this time period. Also touched upon was the lack of medical care and the reliance on home potions and remedies.
Was it well researched? Meticulously. Was the story predictable? Yes it was. But then, readers who like historical romance expect predictability. (though there was one’twist’ that I didn’t see coming) The characters fairly leapt off the page, and the plot was didactic and well as entertaining. Details of the restoration needed after the Revolution, and the political climate of the time, were fascinating to read about. It was Christian fiction, but not ‘preachy’. Religion was a bigger part of people’s lives in the 18th century, so the Christian aspect just seemed a necessary part of the story.
Every once in a while we must take a step back to a time when the world was vast. When a trip of thirty miles was undertaken with hesitation. Before telephones, cars, and modern comforts. A time when folk had to be more self-sufficient, and self reliant. Reading books set in this time period provides us with needed reminders of how life once was…
It was with sadness, that I read the last page and left 18th century Virginia to return to the present. I guess that is testament enough as to how much I enjoyed it.
I received a digital copy of this novel from Revell via NetGalley for review consideration.
Laura Frantz was born and raised in Kentucky. She writes for the joy of it, and to give others joy. Her enthusiasm shows. Her lifelong love of libraries and history have served her well. She is the author of eight Christian historical novels.