Desert Isle Keeper
Forever and Ever
Ah…the Wyckerley trilogy. At one time, this trilogy was very well-known to historical romance fans. The first two books, To Love and To Cherish and To Have and To Hold, tend to garner lots of discussion among readers. As it came time to pick a TBR Challenge read, I realized that while I have read these first two books several times apiece, I somehow never got to the final book of the trilogy, Forever and Ever, a 1996 release.
Since the book is now twenty years old, I wondered to myself if it would work for me. After all, a LOT has changed in romance publishing since this book came out. However, as I revisited Wyckerley for the first time in years, I found myself enchanted yet again. Just as its predecessors, this novel tackles some tough issues, but the characters are vividly written and the story is just achingly romantic.
In this final installment of the trilogy, Gaffney turns from the local gentry of Wyckerley to the daughter of a successful businessman – now a business owner in her own right. Sophie Deene inherited her father’s copper mine and to the delight of her employees and the surprise of her doubters, she has kept it running successfully. From the beginning we see that while Sophie keeps an exhausting schedule, she genuinely loves the mine as well as loving the connection it gives her with the late father she so cherished.
As the story opens, Connor Pendarvis has come to Wyckerley. His goal is to seek employment at Sophie’s mine. He has been sent by a labor reform society bent on exposing mine conditions and forcing improvements and reform. Connor grew up desperately poor in Cornwall, and he has seen virtually everyone in his family broken down and even killed due to the effects of mining.
While he gets his job under false pretenses, Connor does work hard and the feelings his interactions with Sophie cause are very real. Obviously, the two are in quite a bind. For starters, Sophie has no idea that Connor is working undercover – or that he is anything other than a simple miner. And then there is the class divide. Sophie is not of the aristocracy, but as the owner of one of the local mines, she does hold a position in society that would make it unthinkable for her to enter into a relationship with one of her employees. To her credit, the author spends a great deal of time developing this ethical dilemma and the reader sees just how real an issue it is for the characters.
As a young woman living alone and owning a business, Sophie occupies a precarious position in Victorian society and one can see that she feels the weight of that. Connor and others in the story are conscious of it as well, and the author works with that. As a reader, I could at times almost feel how constrained some of Sophie’s choices were.
Frankly, even if Sophie wants to throw caution to the wind and be completely her own person, she has others to think about. As a respectable business owner, Sophie can provide a living for her employees. In addition, her uncle owns a neighboring mine and if Connor represents the modernizing and changing forces in England, Sophie’s uncle is all about restraint, convention and tradition. In fact, Sophie’s uncle would like nothing better than for her to marry a suitable man who can control her business while she devotes herself to a more traditionally feminine life.
Forever and Ever is fraught with tension and full of emotion. If you like your historicals meaty and angsty, this one delivers in spades.The romance itself has plenty of conflict points, and the author draws on the historical setting to paint a very rich backstory. Victorian England was far from placid, and the details of old traditions giving way to new technological advances and changes in labor practices play out vividly in the lives of these characters.
One thing that really made this book work for me were the characters. Sophie is a mixture of good business sense and impulsiveness. She is sometimes heroic and sometimes her own worst enemy. In that sense, she felt real. Connor likewise has noble impulses but falls short of perfection. These two are flawed, but somehow they develop to suit each other well by the end of the story.
The secondary characters work well also. Gaffney gives even the secondary characters a certain multidimensional quality that makes the village of Wyckerley come to life. Sophie’s uncle is a stick in the mud and sometimes a bit of a villain in her eyes, but we also get opportunities to see how much he genuinely loves his niece even if he doesn’t wholly understand her.
In case you still wondered, this novel does indeed stand the test of time. It’s beautifully written and a joy to read. I just wish there were more historicals like this.