A Castaway in Cornwall
If I were to use just one word to describe Julie Klassen’s writing it would be the word gentle. Gentle – almost leisurely – pacing is a hallmark of her style and kindly, amiable folk people her tales. Even her villains are milder than most. All of that is in full force in her latest novel, A Castaway in Cornwall.
Shipwrecks are a typical occurrence along the windy, sandbar-riddled coast of Cornwall where the villagers are more likely to plunder the flotsam and jetsam of a wreck than they are to risk life and limb to help the lost souls aboard the battered boat. Orphan Laura Calloway is an exception; like the others she makes a modest living from what she finds on the beaches near her home but she also makes it a point to keep a catalog of the dead and write to their families, to help arrange a church burial for the bodies that wash up on shore and to look out for survivors. Which is how she comes to invite a stranger into her step-aunt’s home.
When she finds him floating on the sea he is battered, cut, bruised and unconscious. He spends days fighting a fever but with the help of a young local doctor and an elderly midwife, Laura is able to restore him to health. He says he is Alexander Lucas and that he was sailing home to Jersey. But he has an odd accent and his hands have abrasions from where they were clearly tied. When he asks Laura for her descriptions of the dead, he seems more concerned about a stranger who doesn’t appear on the list than the deceased friend who does. In his manner and clothes, and the snippets he tells of his life, Alexander appears to be every inch the gentleman, yet he claims to be but a humble sailor. Laura feels uneasy about these discrepancies but is charmed by the seemingly earnest and kindly nature of her guest.
Alexander had been on a personal mission of vital importance and is deeply troubled that so much time has been lost to healing from the wreck. His situation is a precarious one; he cannot afford to come to the attention of the authorities but he must begin a search for a silver flask that was on the ship, a container which holds a letter vital to the success of his endeavour. He hates lying to the lovely Laura about who he is and what he is up to but he feels he has no choice.
When another survivor from the wreck is found, the very man about whom Alexander was so curious, Laura realizes that her house guest has indeed been lying to her. She should turn him in to the local militia and be done with the matter. Yet when he explains what he is doing and why, she finds herself risking her own freedom and position to help him. It’s a choice that will result in her leaving her familiar world to follow a stranger into the dangerous unknown.
The star of this story is the vivid descriptions of existence on the Cornish coast. We see how daily life and the local economy revolve around the sea, from the salvaging efforts which help keep people financially afloat to the difficulties which occur, such as dangerous smugglers and unscrupulous reclamation men. Laura, who moved there after her parents’ deaths, has not fit easily into the area. Her habit of reconnecting the items she finds on the beaches with their previous owners is seen as a criticism of the denizens’ own more practical efforts (read theft). This hasn’t kept the local lads from looking her way, though. She is a beautiful girl with a kindly, sweet nature which has many men of the community interested in her, but her position as a penniless orphan dependent on the largesse of a relative who sees her as a rival to her own daughter, has made Julia wary of suitors. She knows there will be trouble if a man her aunt wants for her step-cousin Elsed chooses Laura instead. However, she can’t help but be immediately attracted to Alexander not just for his handsome face and flawless manners but because of where he is headed. Julia’s parents died in Jersey and she has longed to go there since she was a young girl, if for no other reason than to see their graves.
Alexander has behaved honorably all his life but that honor has brought him only cold rewards. His greatest enemy was on the ship that wrecked, and when he discovers that man survived, he knows it will mean trouble for him; his rival wants nothing more than to see Alexander imprisoned or killed. The man’s hatred is so strong that he has caused Alexander’s family a great deal of harm, harm which Alexander feels responsible for and is determined to fix. He feels guilty asking Julia for aid to escape his enemy but he has no recourse if he is to help his family. He is stunned when she winds up journeying with him but the additional time together serves to move their relationship from attraction to love.
Like much of the story, the romance is a pleasant, quiet event which happens neatly and without much fuss. They get along well, admire each other’s strong morals and there are no impediments to their union aside from Alexander’s familial problems. Once those are resolved they ease into their HEA.
The mystery is mildly interesting if not overly compelling, and it too has a nice, neat resolution.
This is an inspirational romance with conversations about God, his provision and the importance of church and bible reading sprinkled throughout the text. I thought the matter was handled in a manner which would have been typical of the time period and seemed natural to all the characters.
I had a few quibbles with the tale. The first is that I couldn’t quite figure out the rank of the characters. The Regency period is one where everyone had a place and that place was marked by certain rules of behavior but neither Alexander nor Laura seemed to fit into my notions of what would be expected of the upper middle class, which is what I think they were. The second is that much of the plot involves things working out a tad too conveniently for the characters. Large problems would be presented and then total strangers would step up to resolve them.
Not a quibble but what might prove a deterrent to some readers is the achingly low key nature of the tale. Even the action packed sequences, told in the author’s clear, quiet style, aren’t riveting or anxiety inducing.
Smooth prose and likable characters make A Castaway in Cornwall a pleasant, comfortable read sure to please fans of the author. For those not familiar with her work, I can only recommend it if you are looking for a quiet, unchallenging read.