The Captive Heart
Sometimes I go into a book not knowing what to expect. Such was the case with The Captive Heart. I’ve never read this author before and had no idea what to expect from the story aside from it being a colonial romance. However, I quickly discovered a fascinating world with characters who made me care what happened to them.
Eleanor Morgan works as governess in the household of a duke and, when her employer makes inappropriate advances, has nowhere to turn when she rebuffs him. Someone sympathetic to her plight gives her a reference to a wealthy family in Charles Town, and she sets off. However, upon arrival in the Carolinas, the family does not appear to collect her and pay her passage, so she is sold into indentured servitude. A procurer taking indentured servants into the rougher inland frontier areas takes Eleanor and a few of her shipboard acquaintances to the small town of Newcastle, where Eleanor learns that her indenture has been purchased by a widower living in the woods about a day’s ride outside of town. Not a promising beginning.
Things become even more dire when Samuel Heath, Eleanor’s employer, basically forces her into marriage, with his rationale being that he would rather have a wife bound to raise his daughter than a servant who will leave eventually. While I found this part of the plot a tad improbable, it certainly did ratchet up the tension. After all, an indenture would have at least ended after several years, but marriage keeps Eleanor tied to Samuel for life. Eleanor goes along with Samuel’s demand provided that the marriage be in name only and Samuel acquiesces. Eleanor’s initial journey out to Samuel’s cabin is pretty rough, but after that painful first day and evening together, Samuel starts to realize that he’s being something of a jerk and he does rather awkwardly try to make up for it.
While he doesn’t make the best first impression, I did find myself liking Samuel quite a bit as the book went on. He’s gruff, not terribly patient, and communication skills are not his forté (to put it mildly). However, he is honest and just as he always seeks to do right by his daughter, he also treats Eleanor fairly. It took me a while to move beyond the forced marriage and warm up to Samuel, but once I did, I liked him very much as a match for Eleanor. Samuel has a checkered past and grew up among the Cherokee, so he lives somewhat on the edges of colonial society. Even so, he does command respect – a quality the author does a good job of showing rather than telling about him. Given that Eleanor grew up among the landed gentry in England, life in a frontier cabin is quite a shock for her. She adapts, but I appreciated that the author made this a gradual process for her with quite a few missteps.
I also found the frontier South Carolina setting of this novel fascinating. The hardscrabble folks Eleanor encounters do not have slaves, but the more prosperous do have indentured servants, and the author does a good job of showing how vulnerable their position could be. In addition, since the main action in this book takes place out on the edges of European settlement, we see a lot of interaction between white settlers and the Cherokee. Samuel himself was essentially raised in a Cherokee village following the deaths of his parents, and some of the plot action involves the people he was closest to from there. I liked seeing the author create Native American characters who were three-dimensional rather than simply there as foils to the white characters. However, given the time period (1770s), it was somewhat bittersweet for me to read because I know enough history to realize that even though folks were coexisting at least semi-peacefully(albeit with tensions beneath the surface as well as British plots to grab natives’ land going on in the background) during the time of this book, that would not last long at all. Given Samuel’s love of family, I could not help imagining how sad the Cherokee nation’s future would be for Samuel and Eleanor.
On a more positive note, this is one of those Inspirationals that I actually did find inspiring. Given the Native American and European settler dynamic, I was afraid that this might be a heavy-handed conversion story. However, that is not the case at all. In fact, the one character who mentions trying to convert the Cherokee is gently chided for making assumptions about them. In this story, the action picks up some time after Samuel has already become a Christian. He discusses what his life was like before that point (including town rumors that he murdered his first wife), and in one scene, he talks about how his faith has changed him. Perhaps even more powerful is the way he shows readers throughout the story how his faith has started shaping his life. It’s done in an understated fashion, but does pop up several times throughout the story.
While I did sometimes get frustrated at Eleanor’s unwillingness to trust Samuel even after being given plenty of proof of his trustworthiness, I couldn’t entirely blame her. After all, the woman did essentially get forced into marriage. Overall, I found The Captive Heart to be a pleasant surprise. I’ve not tried this author before, but I did enjoy this book. In addition to telling a romantic story, Samuel and Eleanor’s adventures with bears, wildfires and nature in general gave me an all new appreciation for just how difficult and dangerous life in Colonial America could be.