When Madeline Oxley’s father tells her that the man of her dreams, Adam Coates, has written him asking for Madeline’s hand Madeline cannot help but think that it is all just too good to be true. Years have passed since the last time Madeline had seen Adam, in fact she was just a child when Adam was courting her older, beautiful sister, but Adam Coates has been her romantic ideal since childhood and his letter was an absolute dream come true. Now Madeline will be able to leave her home in Yorkshire, where she lived with her disapproving father and an old scandal, to marry her heart’s desire.
When Madeline’s ship sets anchor on the shores of Nova Scotia, a shocked Adam tells her unceremoniously that it was not her that he had written asking for marriage but her recently widowed sister, Diana. Adam immediately sends off a letter to Diana and his solicitor, asking for a proxy marriage, and Madeline assures herself that living with Adam and his family will be a short-term arrangement until she can find herself employment. While living with the Coates family Madeline proves herself to be an indispensable helpmate, friend, and maternal figure within the family and the perfect woman for Adam. Adam, quickly realizing his true feelings, decides to send a second letter to Diana rescinding his engagement offer and asking for an annulment. But before Adam can post the second letter Diana descends from a ship from England…
After Adam tries to break his engagement with her, Diana flees his house in the middle of a storm and subsequently breaks her leg in an accident. Now Madeline, torn between her guilt over her sister’s accident and her own desire to marry Adam, knows that her only hope for a happiness lies with the sister who has never thought of anyone’s happiness but her own.
The flow of Adam’s Promise was wonderful - the characters are immediately thrown into the brunt of an uncomfortable situation, and Julianne MacLean was careful not to bog down the quick pace of her story with too much background or superfluous characters and details. It was an easy transition from each point of the story to the next, making the heroine and hero’s actions and thoughts seem as seamless as possible. The characters themselves were initially very compelling: each of Ms. MacLean’s characters had very finite personalities that truly guided the flow and plot of the novel - it never appeared that the author had to take a proactive role in the story, the characters made the novel.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the novel, Ms. MacLean’s hand becomes more evident as the story began to wind down to a conclusion. I began to have to work at my “relationship” with the characters as Adam became slightly overbearing in regards to his expectations of Madeline. Diana quickly changes from a self centered, egotistical society lady to a loving sister who realizes her past faults… and even Madeline throws me off kilter. From the beginning we know that all she needs is a little love to blossom into the woman she could truly become - and not having that from her family, we all know Adam is the perfect person to give it to her. But, towards the end of the novel, Madeline’s self deprecating manner becomes almost too much to bear. If she begged or pleaded one more time, I’d have wanted to cut her down myself.
Although there is nothing I abhor more than a needy heroine, the dramatic difference between Madeline and her almost overwhelming sister does further the plot and themes of Adam’s Promise, which were quite well thought out and delivered. The setting, Nova Scotia, was new to me, and therefore quite pleasant. MacLean’s description of it was compelling and yet serviceable. I found myself interested in it, but not bogged down by too many details or gaps in knowledge that hindered my reading. All in all, the balance was quite good.
My recommendation for this book depends entirely on the reader’s preference in heroines. Since the book is well written, a quick engaging read, with good plot focus and seemingly accurate detail (I say seemingly only because I am not a competent judge of Nova Scotia as a setting) it may appeal to a good many readers. On the other hand, if you react strongly to a needy-weakness in your leading lady, perhaps its best to pass on this one.