Standalone novel The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson is the fifth book in the American Tapestries line, a series that sets romance against the backdrop of epic moments in American history. This is an extremely well-written and moving novel, one that I highly recommend.
I've enjoyed books by Melanie before, so I was expecting this to be another great read, but I was surprised at the depth of characterization, historical detail, and emotion found within its pages. The Courier of Caswell Hall is an interesting and moving read that captured and held my attention from the first page, but it's not a light read. Yes, it's a beautiful and touching romance, but Nathan and Lydia's love story is secondary to the themes of divided loyalties, courage, deceit, sacrifice, and the realities of war.
The story opens with a prologue that sets up all that happened 45 years earlier, beginning in 1781 on the banks of the James River and the Caswell Plantation, when Lydia risks all to rescue an injured Patriot courier who will only reveal his first name, Nathan. Lydia knows that "right and wrong can be muddied during a war" . . . and Nathan sees Lydia as "a beautiful young woman with a penchant to heal what had been destroyed and to help those who had been wounded."
Melanie brings women's roles during the war to the forefront through the courageous actions of Lydia and Sarah. Though the methods associated with their spying might seem rather innocent - listening to conversations, memorizing details, retrieving notes from behind bricks and passing them through the exchange of books - the penalty if caught was unthinkable.
It was a time when, rather than people being united against a common enemy, families and neighbors were divided and no one knew who to trust. Lydia's brother, Grayson, realized that the British "had no love of freedom, no hope for the future; they just wanted to stop those who did."
And freedom certainly had different meanings, depending which side you were on. Men like Nathan, who refused to ever use slaves, were rare at this time. The Patriots fought to be free from a king's tyranny, while keeping slaves in submission - and the British granted freedom to slaves willing to fight with them, while denying Americans theirs. Nathan reflected: "It was a strange world. The Americans purported freedom for some men while the British talked only of freedom for the Negro slaves."
In The Courier of Caswell Hall, Melanie has created a superb blend of rich characterization, great storytelling, and historical detail. This is a moving story that I highly recommend to all readers.
This book was provided by Litfuse Publicity Group and Summerside Press in exchange for my honest review.
Melanie Dobson offers such a fantastic picture into the lives of the people in America during the heart of the American Revolutionary War. The portrayal of the ideas of the time are right on target. The focus of the role that ordinary people had in the war was refreshing. War isn't always fought on the battlefield, but with the people behind the scene.
With that focus, we are introduced to Nathan and Lydia, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Deceleration of Independence, July 4th, 1826. After so much that has happened, a celebration was in order, however the celebration is short lived when Nathan collapses in Lydia's arms on the dance floor and we are swept back in time to when the war could have gone either way.
Lydia at twenty-four years of age, is still not married. Her father is a staunch loyalist, who believe that the the British soldiers could do no wrong. He is a proper Englishman, who is devoted to his king and know that the colonies will be restored to their proper place under the rule of King George. Lydia follows his ideas, but not to the passion her father displaces. Sometimes duty is over ruled by compassion, and that is what happens when Lydia stumbles upon a man, unconscious and nearly frozen on their property. Knowing her father would turn in this stranger, Lydia hides him and with the help of two servants, the stranger regains his strength.Over the course of the week that he is hidden away, the stranger, Nathan, starts speaking of his belief of freedom and plants a seed into Lydia's head.
Sarah, neighbor to Lydia, once was a loyalist, but after her brother declared patriot, Sarah knew her thoughts were that of her brother and has become a courier for the patriots. Her actions are secret, but her brothers affiliations toward America are not, and Sarah looses her home to a fire that the British set. Devastated over what has happened to her friend, Lydia's thoughts start to turn away from Tory and agrees to become a courier for the patriots.
Lydia and Sarah are the ladies of their society. They are genteel and quiet, they are what is expected of them in this time. Even though they are quiet, they fight a fierce battle. They risk their lives to help save those around them with the messages they are intrusted. In the time of war, no one really knew who was affiliated with which side, so secrets were precious. Even in Lydia's home, secrets are kept from the family and it is interesting to find out what is driving each character to do what they do.
The historical detail in The Courier of Caswell Hall was fantastic! The uncertentiy of the war is displayed, along with how, only some of the people were for the Patriots, others were for the British, and then some who just didn't care. They were ready for this strife to end. That was all that they cared for. And depending on how one viewed something, could easily tear a family apart. Sons against fathers, brother verses brother. It was a hard time.
It was a wonderfully written story!
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity and Summer Side Press, I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest opinion.
The American Revolutionary War brought out strong feelings on each side: both the Loyalists and the Patriots were fighting for control of America. Such strong feelings divided families, with some family members openly fighting for the other side, while others secretly fought by being couriers and spies. The Caswell's were one of those families.
Lydia Caswell was taking one of her nightly walks along the bank of the James River when she found Nathan lying unconscious on the shore. Fearing God more than man Lydia knew she couldn't leave him there, and went in search of help... This one brave act led her into a network of couriers and spies who were associated with the Patriots. The Caswall family's loyalty to the crown is a perfect cover, but the consequences are severe should she get caught.
As Lydia continues to deliver Nathan's messages, her family is housing and entertaining British soldiers. Putting her in a unique position where she can gather intelligence and still keep her cover. But will those who are living under the same roof catch on to her forbidden activities? And where does Lydia's loyalties truly lie? She must decide between what she has been taught and what she truly believes is right.
I loved how history came to life right in front of my eyes. Melanie Dobson used all the correct elements... danger, action, suspense, forbidden romance, and espionage... to create a realistic story that is sure to draw the readers in and keep them turning pages straight to the end.
**The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson was provided for me free by Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest review.
Melanie Dobson writes with a masterful mind a story placed during our young nation's history. Her eye to detail, historical figures and researching makes The Courier of Caswell Hall a must read novel plus one to add to one's personal home library. Woven throughout the tale are faith, divided loyalties, romance, devotion, action and adventure.
The family Caswell decides to remain loyal to the British crown even when visiting soldiers prove less than polite. Lord Caswell is under the impression that because of his loyalty, though kept secret from society, will protect his holdings in Virginia. Lydia once held the views of her parents, but as the war lingers on and with her brother gone, her youngest sister flirting with a major in British garb, where does her own loyalties lie? Nathan is a courier who has assumed many personas as needed to obtain information for the Continental Army. Since one courier has been moved to another state, he must recruit, train and protect the courier at all costs. Nathan finds this most challenging with the major along with his staff constantly moving in, about or off the Caswell property.
Historical fiction tends to draw me into a book for long periods of time; pun intended! I find the attention to detail about a period fascinating and educational. Sometimes a tale is told that includes real people who lived during that era, but with a different spin to what happened to them; however, this novel is not of that nature. Melanie Dobson shares her love of telling stories in a way that captures not only a reader's mind, but the heart as well.
As I kept turning the pages while reading, various characters whether spies or slaves, Tories or Patriots, intrigued me as to how dedicated the characters were in their devotion toward freedom. Even though both sides had differing views of what freedom looked like, it was how some of them made their choice as to which side they would stand on. Again, I was struck with the cost of war in lives, as well as the cost many people paid for trying to live one day at a time. Many devoted not only their lives, but their fortunes as well to win the war. Please take time to read a well written, passionate book titled, The Courier of Caswell Hall. You won't regret making time to read!
The Courier of Caswell Hall is a well-written historical with powerful characters. Lydia's journey from staunch Loyalist to Patriot spy was intriguing, but my favorite part was how Dobson integrated Lydia's spiritual beliefs into every part of the story. There was no preaching, no sudden cry for healing or deliverance at the climax. Lydia's character relied on God and His word for wisdom not only in times of stress, but also in her "ordinary world," before all the excitement started. Her character arc, the way she changed, was very believable because of her strong faith.
However, when I first read that Sarah Hammond, the other protagonist, ran a four thousand acre plantation and maintained a spy network in the mid 18th century, I was a bit skeptical. But again, Dobson's richly-detailed descriptions and deep characterization made the storyline not only realistic, but compelling.
The Courier of Caswell Hall is a great story and I'll probably read it again. I'd like to thank LitFuse Publicity for the copy in exchange for my fair and honest review.