The characters: Stewart Jameson, a Scottish painter, is on the run from debtors when he arrives in Boston. He has incurred the debts not at gambling or other vices, but through a foolhardy plan to save his friend, a scholar, from bondage. Once in Boston, he takes on an apprentice named Francis Weston, a starved young boy that shows unusual talent. Only Francis is really Frances, and she is an Easton. Her family is one of the most esteemed in Boston, but she has suffered an out of wedlock pregnancy and can't let go of the desire to find her child.
The plot: Although Jameson is romantically inclined towards men, he finds physical satisfaction best with women. His unwitting seducer is Weston/Easton, who cannot deny her attraction to her employer, despite the danger it presents to her station.
What of slavery, taxation, politics, religion, hypocrisy, the essence of freedom for women, slaves and Americans and the competing requirements of independence and privilege? All of those themes are present in the novel, along with rich historical detail. But they are window dressing. This is a historical romance novel for intellectuals, no matter how well-dressed. Amazon's official reviewers call this "embarrassingly purple". Indeed, there are places where you blush, not only from graphic descriptions of sex but from the language. "Vulgar" may be the better word in some instances.
But I couldn't put this down for two days. The authors created characters whom you rooted for or at least wanted to stay with until you found out if you they got what they deserved. Some of it was heart-breaking- particularly at the end- and at the end you're left wondering if you're looking at the happiest of all endings or the beginning of a tragedy. But that only makes the characters stay with you more. And... some of that purple prose is really well done.
Novelist is really off with their recommendations of similar titles. Lepore and Kamensky are historians not authors who churn out bodice busters.
I never would have expected to like a book set in colonial New England this much, but this is a great story. I love painting, so a woman who strove so hard to be a painter in this era grabbed my interest. The anti-slavery theme was another plus, and the mystery and romance was a bonus. I started with the e-audio and missed John Lee a bit when I switched to the book, but the story got better and better.
Blind Date With a Book comment: "Excellent book."
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