A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser
The Particulars: Historical romance novella, digital only, Carina Press, 2013
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a Regency with an interracial couple. Not something you see everyday. Also I *know* Susanna online (she's participated in the TBR Challenge in the past) and I wanted to try one of her books. I purchased this at an RWA Literacy Signing - pretty sure Atlanta 2013.
The Review: Let's get this out of the way up front: this is a novella. Skimming through other reviews for this book, most of the quibbles arise from the fact that it's short. I'm not necessarily going to say that these other readers are wrong. It is short, and this story has the bones to have been a full-length novel. I can see that side of the coin, but this story mostly worked for me in novella form. It also helped tremendously that after DNF'ing my first choice for this month's challenge, and therefore picking up a novella out of desperation to meet my own deadline, that I fell right into this story. That magical, indefinable something when a author's "voice" just clicks for you as a reader.
Elijah Cameron is the son of former slaves, his parents having been set free by British forces during the American Revolution. Raised in London, Elijah joins the army working his way up to rank of corporal and stalling out. Frankly it's amazing he made it that far. Yes he's British, but he's still a black man. He's now working his way through France, the British forces having Napoleon on the run. They've just won a battle and now it's time for the looting to begin! It's during this looting that one of the men has an altercation with a French soldier over a ruby necklace. As Sam lays dying in Elijah's arms, he makes the man swear to take the ruby necklace to his wife, Rose.
Rose has been following Sam's unit since they were dispatched to the Continent. Their son (plot moppet ahoy!) also travels with them. It's a hard life, but Rose isn't one for whining. Her dream is to somehow save enough money to buy the local inn back home. Rose loves to cook. If only this blasted war would be over! Elijah is a friend, having shared dinner with Sam and Rose on many occasions. And now here he is to tell her her husband is dead, and that he wanted her to have this opulent ruby necklace. Oh if only it were that simple! Rose is now effectively single. A widow in a camp full of men. Certainly it's expected that she will have to remarry quickly - if only for her own safety and protection. But the ruby necklace complicates the issue. She not only needs a man to protect her physical person, but her new found monetary assets as well.
We all know what happens next, right? Before you can say "marriage of convenience" - Elijah and Rose are hitched. The fly in the ointment? It's the early 19th century and they're an interracial couple - isn't that enough?
This story moves very quickly, and I can see it giving some readers whiplash. Rose literally goes from married, to widowed, to remarried within the span of 48 hours. She cared about her husband, and probably even loved him, although there naturally wasn't the all-consuming passion with him that she now shares with our hero. I was able to roll with this extremely quick turnaround, mostly because of the historical factor. That said, it's still awful fast. If this had been a novel, it probably wouldn't be an issue for most readers. They could still be married within 48 hours, but consummation and declarations of true feelings could be strung out over a few hundred pages. With a novella? You've got, like, a chapter. Maybe two.
The crux of the conflict, I thought, was handled well. That said, this is a novella - so once again, it's fast. Especially once the war is over and our happy couple has to settle back to life in England. Elijah and Rose are literally living in an area where people have never seen a black man. Like, ever. As in never ever. And when he does encounter prejudice it's resolved in quick heart-to-heart explained away by grief. This was actually the one misstep in the story for me. In a novel it would have been fleshed out more, but there is no such luxury with a novella and it does come off as a bit too pat.
Which makes it sound like I didn't enjoy this story. No, I really did. Like I said, there was something about the authorial voice here that just zinged me the right way. I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, with a few DNF's and more than a few "meh, it was OK" reads. This novella hit me in all the sweet spots. And now I'm off to snap up more books by Fraser. Once again proving how counter-productive the TBR Challenge can sometimes be.
Final Grade = B