Carved in Stone
An impoverished, idealistic lawyer falls for a kindly, compassionate heiress but is unsure if their love can bridge the social and economic divide between them in Elizabeth Camden’s Carved in Stone.
Gwen Blackstone Kellerman has suffered plenty of heartache in her life. Her mother died when she was a child, and her father and husband died within days of each other just two short years earlier. But the tragedy that has haunted her the most was the kidnapping of her brother William three decades before, when he was just five years old. Her wealthy and powerful family, whose legacy of greed and corruption were the likely impetus for the crime, has never been able to find out what happened to him. A man named Mick Malone was charged and tried for the offence but was found innocent by a jury of his peers who felt the Blackstones were the real criminals in the situation. Now, Mick is publishing a tell-all memoir of how he was persecuted and railroaded into a trial by Gwen’s family.
Typically, this wouldn’t be something Gwen would involve herself with. She lives a quiet life on the campus of Blackstone College, the educational community her family founded and funds in order to help put a positive spin on the millions they have made off the backs of their workers. However, her uncle and grandfather make it clear that unless she can get Mick to stop the publication of his book, the funding for the university will be pulled. Gwen can’t bear to see the school her father gave his heart and soul to closed and agrees to speak with Patrick O’Neill, Mick’s attorney.
The Catholic church paid for Patrick’s education but a last-minute change of heart (caused by a rendezvous with a pretty neighbor) kept Patrick from becoming a priest. He still views his law degree as a mission and works primarily among the exploited and impoverished Irish immigrants of the community he grew up in. He doesn’t like Mick Malone, a man known for his thieving, drinking and general immorality, but he likes people like the Blackstone family even less. Patrick feels defending the Irish scapegoat the family blamed the kidnapping on is a righteous cause and so he has agreed to defend Mick in the libel case the Blackstones have filed to prevent the publication of Mick’s book. When Gwen comes, offering money in exchange for their silence, he consults with his client and then politely but firmly shows her the door.
But when Patrick sees Gwen and her grandfather displaying genuine sorrow over the lost William during the court case, he comes to the realization that the past crime is causing present day heartache. Now that the thirty-year old mystery is once more in the public eye, he wonders just what information he and Gwen can shake loose if they again research what happened to her brother. Naturally, they fall in love along the way. But is love enough to bridge the gulf between them caused by their class disparity?
One of the greatest strengths of any Camden romance is the amazingly detailed historical content and this story is no exception. From the dangerous world of the Irish tenements and burgeoning labor unions to the important scientific research being done on university campuses, the author brings 1900s New York alive. The history never feels like a lesson; instead she immerses you so perfectly in the setting you’ll feel like you’ve been swept back in time.
Ms. Camden writes inspirational romance, a genre typically equated with American protestant evangelicals, but in keeping with her meticulous historicity Patrick is very much a Catholic. He prays the rosary, attends mass, talks about confession and has frequent interactions with various priests throughout the text. Gwen’s faith is mentioned in a far more generic manner. Most will be able to read this story without being made uncomfortable by the level of religiosity.
This is book one in The Blackstone Legacy series and something that rarely happens with a first installment happened here – I found myself liking the secondary characters far more than the primary couple and I am anxiously awaiting their books. Gruff Liam, with his volatile temper and pugnacious personality totally won me over and Natalia, with her righteous cause regarding the bank shares, her charm and her cleverness is another favorite. I can’t wait to read their love stories in the future.
Unfortunately, I struggled with Patrick and Gwen. Gwen is a gooey mess of a human being, with a heart of gold and a mind full of mush. She makes decisions based on how she feels at any given moment. Gwen believes that money and things don’t matter to her, but that is an ideal she holds only because of her unearned prodigious wealth. When she wants something, she simply buys it without worry. When she feels like generously giving something away, she does the same thing. Gwen’s inability to see her own sense of privilege and her tendency to make emotional decisions kept me from loving her.
In some ways, Patrick suffers from the same problem. His feelings, especially pride, tend to motivate him more than reason or any sense of loyalty or love. He isn’t fickle only about the priesthood but as his relationship with Gwen progresses, he becomes fickle about that (the relationship) as well. I couldn’t root for their romance because I wondered if either of them really had the wherewithal to stay together when the going got tougher than just dealing with her family looking down on his roots (even that was a big struggle for them).
This is the second Camden novel in a row to deal with a cheating spouse and what is owed by the family of the philanderer to the children of those extra-marital unions. I disagreed with how the issue was handled in the last book, although the subject itself made sense in the context of that particular plot. In this tale, the inclusion of the characters involved in the cheating storyline didn’t in any way add to the narrative and I think in some ways amplified the problems I had with Gwen. Gwen ultimately responds thoughtlessly, following her he heart rather than her head.
Ultimately, I found myself torn between the love I felt for many of the secondary characters and my adoration of the historical aspects of the novel, and the lackluster love story. A mild recommendation is my way of compromising. Carved in Stone is a must read for Camden fans eager to for the start of her new series, just don’t expect to be wowed by the romance.