This review first appeared in the Historical Novels Review and can be found here.
Rowena Ballantyne, nicknamed “Wren,” has been raised in Kentucky by her widowed father, far removed from his affluent family. When Wren’s father is asked to return home, Wren is thrust into the entirely new world of 1850s Pittsburgh, where she rubs elbows with Mellons, Fricks, and other prestigious families. There, she meets James Sackett, head pilot of the Ballantyne steamship line, who uses his trips downriver to secretly rescue fleeing slaves. Once at the Ballantyne estate of New Hope (not to be confused with New Hope, Pennsylvania), Wren is thrust into a debut season, with James as her escort, where she is asked to take her place in this foreign way of life.
Each chapter has a quote, which nicely sets the tone. The beginning, which takes place in Kentucky, seems overly folksy at first, which can make it challenging. The abolitionist subplot was intriguing but underused, I thought, until it reappears at the very end of the book. Just when you expect Wren to get the reward she deserves, the ending is unnecessarily drawn-out. This is a simple, feel-good love story of a fish out of water, struggling to find her footing.
Amazon link is here.