A Wild and Heavenly Place
Grade : A

Fantastically rich and deeply moving, A Wild and Heavenly Place is a love story about finding yourself and the place you truly belong – even if it means crossing an ocean to get there.

Hailey MacIntyre is a Scottish high society girl and Samuel Fiddes is an orphaned tenement boy raising his little sister alone, but they manage to meet as they attend the same church. What cements their friendship and a blossoming attraction is Samuel saving Hailey’s sickly four-year-old brother, Geordie, from a runaway horse-drawn cart. Their class differences, however, keep them apart – especially after Hailey’s family’s fortunes melt into nothingness when the City of Glasgow bank fails.

When Hailey refuses to marry a suitor she doesn’t love to save their prospects and keep the family in Scotland, her mother berates her, and her father makes other plans. Desperate to reclaim their money, he is easily seduced by rumors about life in the newly settled Washington territory in America. With no other ties to keep them there, Hailey, Geordie and the rest of the family choose to emigrate. Hailey rejects a desperate marriage proposal from Samuel, choosing to be practical and protect her little brother from what disasters may come if they don’t find their fortune (and still weighed down by the staggering guilt of rejecting a loveless but financially advantageous marriage), but leaves him with a parting phrase by which to find her – Remember, Washington Territory.

There isn’t much keeping Samuel in Scotland, either, and soon he and his sister Alison emigrate to America as well. While Samuel tries to find Hailey, he settles into life as a shipbuilder, works his way up the food chain, opens his own shipbuilding yard, and finds thriving friendships. Hailey finds herself faced with the prospect of another loveless, cash-sweetened marriage, this time to a man named James Murray, after her father sinks under the torpor of failure and has a stroke, and her mother abandons the family, stealing all the money they have left in the process. Hailey goes through with this marriage, but her family splinters further, and James is a thoughtless, sometimes cruel husband who becomes tangled in the smuggling of opium. In spite of everything, will Samuel and Hailey ever find each other?

This may be a story with familiar tropes, but my does it pack a punch. A Wild and Heavenly Place is smartly written, with strong characters who are imperfect. The grey-hatted morality here is fabulous – (almost) no one is perfect, no one is a saint, but the stories are easy to love and are properly adventuresome. This feels like a good John Jakes novel with a feminist bent and some solid research to boot.

The romance here is lovelorn and star-crossed and easy to root for; the sibling relationships are well-handled and vivid. While there’s some unsubtle characterization going on – Samuel is the one exception to what I said above, because he feels like a secular saint sometimes – they’re usually well-leavened enough with flaws to make them unique.

Oliviera takes a solid dive into both Scottish and early Washington State history; the fires, the close quarters, the nightmare of travel of the era all feel realistic. A Wild and Heavenly Place is a rare showstopper that eats up its long page time and strongly involves you in its characters’ struggles. It comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : February 14, 2024

Publication Date: 02/2024

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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