(as posted on my blog)
Up front: one of the things that we frequently do as readers of romance is to suspend disbelief. I found that I needed to do that in order to accept the main premise of this book – that of a woman waking up after 3 years comatose and, though weak and somewhat wasted, still being able to have full use of her muscles. I had to believe she could have gestated and given birth successfully to a healthy baby while comatose. All in the 1800s. I was happy to do so, fully trusting Beth Williamson to take me on an emotional journey with my hero and heroine.
While I don’t usually advocate reading series in order (you know I usually don’t care if I do or not), I highly recommend reading The Education of Madeline before this book. Why? Continuity. It gives a feeling for who Eppie is, because I never truly got a sense of that from this book. Granted – it’s one of the reasons I rarely read amnesia books. It’s very difficult to gain an understanding of the character when they, themselves, don’t really know who they are. Here’s what I had to say about Eppie in my review of The Education of Madeline: "Also terrific are the two main secondary characters, Eppie, Madeline's mulatto best friend and housekeeper, and Micah, a Rebel soldier. Eppie has a fantastic mouth on her, and a wonderful sense of humor, and her outrage in certain situations is almost comical. Micah has his own demons to slay."
In writing characters with amnesia, I imagine the hardest thing to do is to keep them true to their real character while still letting them evolve into who they’ve become. Eppie is still outspoken, although understandably more hesitant, but seems to have lost most of that wonderful sense of humor. The humor comes from the characters around her, when they all notice that she’s picked up Micah’s accent (presumably from him reading to her while she was comatose). I think it’s difficult to give that person connections with people from their past – especially if they don’t remember them – ding! Light bulb! That’s the huge challenge here. And, I think, a reason why so many people dislike amnesia stories.
Where Beth Williamson does excel is in writing tortured heroes. And how. Micah is the epitome of the tortured heroes. His love for Eppie is palpable. You can feel him willing her back to life. Yet you can also feel his despair that she will ever come back to him. His strong sense of urgency and the need to bring his daughter up in a loving, nurturing, good environment shine through. And he is a wonderful father.
As always with Williamson, some of the best scenes with Micah are done with his need for alcohol. I’m sure this was a very common theme with Civil War vets, and his revelations later in the book reveal why he was so haunted. But even before he reveals why, the reader understands that he is so unhappy, so tortured by the war, what he has seen and done, that his only refuge is to forget. Yet the alcohol never really offers him the safe haven he seeks. Williamson excels at this. You want to hold these men and make them all better. Stroke their hair and tell them it will be all right. And make it all right for them. She literally puts you in their head. Perfectly.
I thought she did the same with Eppie. I felt Eppie’s confusion and dismay; her suspicion at discovering she had lost 3 years of her life, discovering she had a daughter, her anger at always being coddled yet unsure herself at the next step to take. All extremely well done. Her feelings for herself and inward. There's a great scene where they are in the bank to sign some papers when all of a sudden Eppie realizes that she isn't sure she knows how to sign her name. She's becoming this confident woman and this moment of insecurity brings home to her that she really isn't a whole person yet - still dependent upon others. It was really well done.
The only part I felt was lacking in any way was the romance, and I think that Williamson wrote this about as well as it could have been done without writing adding an additional 1-200 pages more. When one is trying to recreate the relationship on a shared past that the other doesn’t remember, it makes for an awkward coming together, and that is how I felt that this romance was. Awkward. They said and did all the right things, but I never truly felt the strong bond and connection that I so wanted to feel. It’s the trope – amnesia storylines simply don’t lend themselves well to strong connections, IMO. Especially with past lovers/family/acquaintances – when the victim doesn’t ever truly remember them.
There are flashes in the book where Eppie remembers feelings and she always feels like her body remembers Micah, which makes her uncomfortable – those were very well done.
They also grow to accept each other in a new light – a must for any relationship to grow and not remain stagnant. When Micah reveals himself and his past to Eppie, she had already admitted to herself that she loved him, but she now needed to fully accept him. On a new level. It brought their relationship completely to a new plane – where it had never been in the past, and with that, Williamson moved them fully forward.
They have a daughter. A precocious almost 3 year old. With a very advanced vocabulary, who has incredible insight. One might think this virtually impossible, but having had a child myself who spoke in full paragraphs at 18 months, this was possibly the most believable part of the story to me, LOL. Miracle was adorable, but I did find myself wanting her to throw a tantrum or two, LOL. I liked that Eppie was uncomfortable, unwilling to call herself Mama, and took a long time to feel maternal. It made it feel more real, especially given that Eppie was only 21 herself. I liked the resolution for them.
There’s always an element of suspense in Williamson’s stories, as if the emotion isn’t enough to wring you out. This involved a kidnapping of Miracle – the premise of which was actually believable given the time frame for the story. The resolution of this was sad, but thankfully, quick. And solidified the relationship for Micah and Eppie.
So, what I loved was the characters themselves. I thought, unfortunately, that the romance was the weakest part of the book. But I still recommend this book without reservation. Highly emotional (as I knew it would be), and beautifully written. The premise IMO, is what held the romance back, as opposed to the writing, the characters themselves, or the author's voice. Another 1-200 pages, and I think it could have been done.