Fabulous historical tales can be hard to come by which is why I treasure the work of Elizabeth Camden. Able to combine real history with sweet romance, she is a master of her craft. Her latest novel, A Daring Venture, continues the story of the history of clean water in New York begun in A Dangerous Legacy. You don’t have to read that book to enjoy this one, although it does provide a good deal of background information you might find helpful.
Dr. Rosalind Werner knows from firsthand experience the importance of clean water. Her mother and father both died due to cholera contamination in their drinking supply, and she studied biochemistry so she could fight the battle against waterborne diseases on the front lines. That’s why she believes so ardently in chemical treatment plants. Far less expensive than filtration and far more effective against the minute organisms that carry deadly diseases, chlorine could mean the difference between life and death for thousands. The science behind the process is new though, and while it is very sound, many are afraid of the possible long-term effects of imbibing chemicals.
One person ready and able to make sure his fears are heard is Nicholas Drake, who has been on the front lines of the water battle since he was a lowly plumber working in the sewers of New York. He fought long and hard to become the Commissioner of Water and he is not about to get behind some newfangled idea like adding poison to the stuff people drink every day. When he meets Rosalind, he knows there is no chance that she will change his mind on the chlorine issue. There is however every chance she’ll capture his heart. The quirky, compassionate young woman with the pretty face and quick, clever mind is exactly what he needs in his life. The question is, will she accept his offer of courtship once she realizes they will never see eye to eye on the best way to ensure clean water for the denizens of their city?
From the start, this couple has great chemistry. Nick doesn’t know who Rosalind is when she first approaches him to discuss her research, but he immediately invites her to sit with him and informs her that her glasses make her look like “an A-class fetcher.” While they don’t agree on the chlorine issue, they manage to disagree so agreeably that they decide to spend more time talking about it. When they meet again as Nick is finishing the very unromantic task of installing toilets at an orphanage, the sparks between them light up once more:
His eyes met hers, and every ounce of his own longing and excitement was mirrored in her face. She felt it too. This wild, unwieldly attraction that lit them both up like fireworks. She was looking at him like she was dying of thirst and he was a glass of water. Even the children huddling on the stairs noticed and started giggling.
This is an inspirational so the two never move beyond passionate kisses, but given that recent surveys show only 11% of Christian singles wait for sex till marriage, mentioning desire in a romance makes a lot more sense than pretending it doesn’t exist.
I didn’t just love Nick and Rosalind as a couple: I liked both of them as individuals, too. Nick is one of the most self-aware and balanced heroes I’ve encountered. He doesn’t have a high level of education, he isn’t polished or refined but he doesn’t allow that to dictate what he does and where he goes in life. He uses his wealth to open doors, but he also uses personal charm and hard work to achieve his ends. He’s an astute judge of character, wary of people who simply want to be around him for his money but also open-hearted enough to give people a chance before assuming bad motives on their part. While he over compensates for his daughter – getting her a French nanny and making sure she dresses well, speaks well – and is anxious about her education, he maintains who he is and doesn’t bow to any pressure to conform to society. He watched his wife wilt under the mockery of her ‘betters’ but he himself doesn’t feel like less. Different, yes, but less, no.
Rosalind is a good match for him specifically because she threw some of society’s standards away. She refuses to simply be a socialite and works hard at her chosen field, in spite of being one of a very few women in it. There has been a personal toll to her work since people often make the assumption that the only reason to hire a woman would be to have an affair with her. Rosalind does her best to compensate for that by dressing simply and making no effort to attract sexual attention, but she doesn’t back down from what she does. And that’s in spite of a lot of pressure – familial, societal and professional – to do so. Her work is important, both to her personally and possibly to millions in general. She refuses to let others’ gossip push her from her job.
That’s one of the things that convinced me of this couple’s HEA. If the people at the opera or at the theater gossiped about Nick’s lack of social graces, it wouldn’t bother Rosalind. She might launch a social crusade over it, but she would have the opposite reaction of Nick’s first wife. She blooms under pressure, not wilted.
The historical aspect of the novel – from the language, to the technology, to the setting – is fabulous. Nick and Rosalind might be unconventional, but they fit perfectly into their time period; nothing about their behavior is anachronistic. Atypical, yes, but they still understand and respect the morals and mores of their society. They do a great job of walking that fine line that separates their own wants and desires from societies expectations.
The course of true love never did run smooth, especially in a romance novel, and in this story several different issues conspire in the attempt to rob Rosalind and Nick of their HEA. At one point in the tale, Rosalind has to lie to Nick in order to keep someone else’s secret. The discovery of that causes a large kerfuffle. Nick has baggage from a bad family relationship and the splash back from that results in some big trouble for Rosalind. But the pacing in the story is good enough that the drama doesn’t overwhelm the plot.
Ms. Camden typically sticks to light references of God and benign theology in her novels and that is an absolutely wonderful way to weave faith into a story without losing the focus on the romance. The story’s inspirational factor is simple, sincere and fits with the time. It doesn’t overwhelm the reader or become preachy.
A Daring Venture is a charming story of love finding a way through disparate personalities and dreams. It’s also a great historical reminder that much of what we take for granted now – clean water, safe birthing procedures, the right to hold a job of our choice – is due to the brave women who came before us and fought hard for those rights. I would recommend this tale to anyone who loves historicals that interweave their romances with real history.
Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Kobo
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