The only financial reward your devoted TRR reviewers receive is
an occasional free book. Sometimes they are in galley form and
sometimes they are bound ARCs. I received a bound ARC of Ellen Fisher's
first novel. So why, on my weekly book run today, did I proceed to fork
over $5.50 to buy a copy of same? After all, the cover isn't
that great. To put it simply, I want The Light in the
Darkness to sell lots and lots of copies so that Bantam will keep
publishing Fisher's books and I was doing my part.
I really like this book! To begin with, I like the setting. There
aren't that many books set in colonial Virginia and not many of those
are as successful at capturing the contradictions of that world: the
elegant society of the planters built on the backs of slaves; the
primitive beauty of a land only marginally tamed; the hard lives of the
poor whites struggling to survive. Fisher brings the stark contrasts of
this world to life.
I also like the story, although I wasn't sure I was going to at first. I
have never been much taken with King Cophetua and the beggar maid
plots, but I have to say that Fisher pulls this one off in grand
And, of course, I liked the characters. Edward Greyson is a marvelous
tortured hero. Eight years earlier his new bride, Diana, had been
brutally murdered. Many suspected Grey (as he is known) of the crime,
but nothing could be proven. So for eight years, Grey had wallowed in
his despair, mourning the woman he had loved to distraction, and sinking
deeper and deeper in to an alcoholic haze.
But despite his behavior and the suspicions that surround him, Grey's
wealth and position make him a highly desirable marriage prospect.
Moreover, his sister Catherine keeps nagging him about his duty to his
name and his need to get over Diana. So, when, while visiting friends,
he saves a tavern wench from a beating and she begs him to save him from
her cruel uncle, rather than hiring her as a servant (which was what she
hoped for), he decides to marry her. This bedraggled, illiterate,
unattractive girl seems like the perfect bride for a man who hates
Jennifer Leigh Wilton has lived with her tavern-keeping uncle since her
parents' deaths eight years earlier. At seventeen, she has forgotten what
it was like to live in a loving family as she works like a slave and
suffers the bullying and beatings of her uncle. When Grey saves her
from her uncle and proceeds to marry her, she sees him as a hero. But
he works hard to disabuse her of this view.
When they arrive at his plantation, it becomes clear to Jennifer that
her new husband has no use for her and no intention of helping her adapt
to her new life. He would be happy if she slept in the stables and
worked in the cookhouse. But his sister refuses to accept such a state
of affairs. Catherine recognizes Grey's motivations and decides to take
Jennifer in hand and turn her into a proper lady. Maybe thus will Grey
be forced to turn from his self-destructive course.
Jennifer's transformation is helped by the fact that when she is cleaned
up and properly dressed, she turns out to be a lovely young woman. It
is also helped by the fact that she is bright and talented and anxious
to improve herself. Thus, her emergence from her cocoon seems quite
Of course, the new Jennifer causes Grey no end of problems. He wants
no lovely new wife who engenders in him feelings that he had buried with
Diana. So he does everything he can to turn Jennifer against him. And
he might have succeeded, had Jennifer not discovered the letters he had
written to Diana and encountered the man he had been before tragedy
There are many barriers to Jennifer's and Grey's finding happiness, most
of them erected by Grey. There is always a danger in such a plot that
the heroine will come across as a self-sacrificing wimp, willing to
bear any abuse in the cause of love. But Fisher avoids this pitfall.
Her Jennifer is too strong, too intelligent and too determined to become
merely a cipher.
Of course, always beneath the surface is the question of who killed
Diana. Even Grey seems to share the general consensus that he is
guilty, although he has no memory of the events surrounding her death.
Jennifer refuses to accept the idea that Grey is a murderer. But, then,
who killed Diana? Solving this mystery is clearly the key to their
I debated long and hard about the rating for this book. Clearly, I am
recommending it, but does it deserve the coveted five hearts? Then, I
realized that I am going to keep this book and revisit it whenever I
need a well told tale of the redemptive power of love. So five hearts
it is. This is a most auspicious debut book and I expect that Ellen
Fisher is an author we will be enjoying for years to come.