A sweet story with an unusual setting that’s mostly a pleasure to read, Adam’s Promise unfortunately hits a groan-inducing plot development that nearly capsizes it.
Madeline Oxley is stunned when her father informs her that Adam Coates sent him a letter asking for her hand in marriage. When she was a girl, she had a hopeless crush on Adam, who courted her older sister Diana. Diana went on to marry a nobleman while Adam married someone else, had several children before being widowed, and moved to Nova Scotia to begin a new life. Now he would like Madeline to join him and become a mother for his children.
Madeline can’t believe her good fortune. What her father doesn’t tell her is that it is actually the recently widowed Diana whom Adam is expecting. Her father, wanting to keep Diana’s inheritance close and be rid of the scandal-prone Madeline, lies to both Madeline and Adam. She travels from England to Nova Scotia, excited and hopeful, only to find on her arrival that she isn’t who he wants.
Adam immediately sends off a personal letter to Diana, while allowing Madeline to stay in his home until the next ship arrives that she can take back to England. But Madeline has no intention of going back to a father who went to such means to get rid of her. She soon begins to seek out other ways she might stay in the settlement. As she spends time with him and his children, Adam begins to realize that he likes Madeline very much and soon wonders if he hasn’t chosen the wrong sister.
Part of what makes Adam’s Promise so appealing is that process by which Adam becomes aware of how much he likes Madeline. The author also gives enough of a sense that Madeline likes Adam the man that it’s believable she’s not holding on to her childhood crush. They’re both strong, honorable people, and the story becomes one of mutual longing, with each drawn to the other but knowing nothing can come of it because of his commitment to her sister.
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this story. Parts of it were very predictable. For instance, when Madeline is introduced to Adam’s very pregnant daughter-in-law, most romance readers will probably figure out immediately who’s going to be delivering that baby. But as leisurely, character-driven books go, this one is very sweet. The characters are likable, the children involved are thankfully noncloying, and the conflict is a realistic and sympathetic one.
The setting is also a plus. (The side of the book calls this a Western; did somebody move Nova Scotia without telling me?) It’s a nice change to see colonialism from a non-American perspective, with references to King George and such during this time period that aren’t the usual Revolutionary outrage. There’s a good sense of history and place that doesn’t overwhelm the story, but accents it well.
Everything is moving along nicely until the story arrives at a scene straight out of a farce, with characters all running in and out of doors, into and out of the house, looking for and missing each other. It’s supposed to be serious, but instead only seems silly. Even worse, it results in a predictable, clichéd and deeply annoying plot development that had me ready to chuck the book for that alone. In the end everything is resolved and everyone is where they are supposed to be, but it’s slow, and irritating, going for a while there.
I liked everything that came before that scene too much to give the book a lower grade than this, but grew too impatient with most of what came after to rate it higher. Except for that plot development and the havoc it wreaks – and that is a big exception – Adam’s Promise was a very nice read. Readers who enjoy colonial or Canadian settings may want to give it a look.