Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The Heart's Strength by Anna Furtado
Publisher: The Heart's Strength
The Heart's Strength is the sequel to Anna Furtado's earlier book, The Heart's Desire. It returns to Renaissance England to pick up the story of Catherine Hawkins and Lady Lydia Wellington more than twenty years later and introduces new characters who become central to the story.
Life at Briarcrest has settled into a comfortable pattern for the ladies who are admired and respected by all who know them. Everything seems ideal until word arrives from the town of Willowglen that Cate Pritchard, the women's goddaughter, is about to give birth to a child out of wedlock and Catherine rushes to help with the delivery. What she finds is bigger trouble than the neighbors gossiping about the circumstances of the child's birth. Two strange priests have appeared in the town claiming to represent the officials of the Inquisition and they are determined to burn someone for witchcraft. As everyone tries to save Cate and her baby from a terrible fate, Lydia suddenly finds herself in particular danger from one of the clergymen, an old enemy the women have failed to recognize. Catherine and her new found friend Fiona Smith, who has grown attached to Cate, will plan a rescue mission to save the women they love, but it will be a race against time to reach them before they succumb to the flames of the Inquisition fire.
Furtado has written a historical novel that is generally accurate. The Inquisition actually arrived much later in England and had a limited impact, but that is an issue only a history buff would probably notice. The reluctance of the English people to participate in what these priests are trying to do is very true and lends authenticity to the book. The tone of the book feels right and reflects English society at that time. The women possess an assertiveness that isn't normally associated with females in that period, but there are numerous true examples that prove it was possible; besides, this is fiction and bending reality a little is permissible.
A reference is made early in the book to how the Roman Catholic Church was waging war on women healers as "witches" and it might have been interesting to see this angle based on reality explored, but the majority of the action shifts away from Catherine and Lydia to tell the story of Cate and Fiona. This contributes to the generational feel of The Heart's Strength and, since the book is subtitled Book Two of the Briarcrest Chronicles, there is an indication that the books are really about Briarcrest and the generations of women who live there, instead of the continuing story of one couple. If this is what is intended, there could be many more chronicles as Briarcrest passes through time and women.
Overall, this is a pleasing romance with a touch of history included. There is suspense, drama and a hair-raising rescue attempt at the end. The characters, especially Fiona, are appealing and draw the reader into their stories, making the reader want to know what happens to them. Not a bad way at all to spend an afternoon or evening.