Desert Isle Keeper
Lately, I’ve begun to think that there’s nothing new under the romance sun; it seems that every time I pick up a romance, I find myself thinking, “Been there, done that, ho-hum.” Then I come across a book like Nell, and my faith is restored, replenished, renewed. I cannot say enough good things about this book.
Jillian Fitzgerald has a secret friend, one only she can see. Her name is Nell, and Jillian knows very little about her, except that Nell doesn’t dress like twentieth-century girls, and she only shows up when Jillian is troubled or needs help. What eleven-year-old Jilly doesn’t realize is that Nell is really Eleanor Fitzgerald, her ancestress from the sixteenth century.
Jilly’s other friend is Frankie Maguire, the son of her father’s kennel keeper, as poor as she is rich, as Catholic as she is Protestant. When Frankie is sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, Jilly thinks she’ll never see him again and tries in vain to forget him. Then, after years of absence, Nell appears to her again; only this time it’s Nell who needs Jillian’s help.
Henry VIII of England has killed all the men of Nell’s family, except for her young brother Gerald. Nell, pregnant by Donal O’Flaherty, must choose between saving her brother’s life and joining her lover. Duty to family wins out over the call of her heart, but Donal follows her to Britain and carries her back to Ireland. Once her own path is set, Nell travels back (or is it forward?) to the twentieth century to help Jilly find the happiness Nell has come to know.
Married to the British minister for Northern Ireland, Jilly has no idea that Frankie is one of the chief negotiators for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA. Escaped from prison, living under an assumed name with a wife and family, Frankie has no more forgotten Jilly than she has him, but he’s reluctantly put away his boyhood dreams of her. Fate throws them together again, and it’s up to Nell to help them find their future.
This is not a typical paranormal romance. Neither of the women really experiences life in the other’s time; more than ghosts, less than people, they hover on the edge of living. These are really two separate yet interwoven tales, and Baker braids them together masterfully. They never intrude on each other; rather, one complements the other in wonderful fashion. The reader makes the switches between times without that jarring sense of unreality that often occurs in time-travel stories.
Baker is adept at giving us a sense of place and time, and I admire her ability to endow each of the four main characters with his or her own distinct, believable voice. I found myself reading a lot of the dialogue aloud, just to re-create the cadences and rhythms. I also appreciated the crash-course in Irish history, necessary to understand some of the action, but never overwhelming.
Your heart will break with Nell and Jillian, then soar, as these two strong women set out to prove that nothing, not political difficulties, not differences in upbringing or religion, not all the fates set against them, will keep them from the men they love. Books like Nell give me confidence that the future of romance is bright indeed.