Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston

Virginia Company, Jamestown, 1621. The once struggling colony is now thriving, and the arrival of a ship full of potential brides has all the single men rushing to put on their best and meet the ladies in hopes of finding wives. Captain Ralph Percy, hardened soldier, gentleman farmer, and avowed bachelor, watches from the sidelines, marveling as his comrades make fools of themselves over the women. He has no need of a wife and can’t understand the sense in asking a perfect stranger to marry him . . . until he catches sight of Jocelyn Leigh.

Struck by her uncommon beauty, quiet grace, and regal bearing, he wonders why a woman such as she would need to brave the sea voyage and the wilds of the new world to find a husband. And then he finds himself doing the unthinkable, asking for her hand in marriage before another man can snatch her up! But he was right to suspect that Jocelyn was not as she seemed, and he soon discovers that his new wife fled England in a desperate attempt to escape an arranged marriage. Ralph vows to protect her, not knowing how soon he will be called upon to do so, or how dangerous it will be to him.

Jocelyn’s jilted fiancĂ©e is coming to find her, and when Lord Carnal lands at Jamestown, he brings dubious tidings. A handsome lord with the wealth and power of the king at his disposal, he informs Ralph that he has married a ward of the king without the king’s permission, a treasonous offense. But all will be well—all Ralph has to do is hand her over and Lord Carnal will sail away with her as though nothing ever happened. But if Ralph does not comply, he is to be clapped in irons and bound for England and the Tower, and Lord Carnal will take Jocelyn by force. The choice seems clear enough—who is Captain Ralph Percy to go against the King’s orders? But one look at Jocelyn’s fear-stricken face decides his fate. This solemn and stoic woman has woven herself into the fabric of his life, and he’s not going to give her up so easily.

Ralph and Jocelyn defy the King’s command and fight for their right to stay together, but it soon becomes evident that their only course of action is to flee. As they make their way through the dangerous wilderness, battling the King’s men, Indians, and even pirates, what started out as a marriage of convenience becomes a true love match, and Ralph discovers that what is worth having is worth holding, no matter the cost.

My Review

4 Stars

Mary Johnston's To Have and To Hold, the best-selling novel of 1900 and one of the first historical romances to be published by the new digital imprint Legacy Romance, is a delightful novel sure to appeal to readers of both historical fiction and the historical romance sub-genre.  

Set in the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century, only a few years after its establishment, the novel centres around British Army Captain Ralph Percy, a veteran of many battles trying to establish a new life for himself in the colony, a life that doesn't include a wife.   Despite his commitment to bachelorhood, the arrival of an English ship full of eligible young women each looking for a husband results in Ralph breaking his vow to stay single when he takes one of these young women, Jocelyn Leigh, as his wife.  There is more to Jocelyn, however, than meets the eye.  To ensure passage of the ship bound for Jamestown, Jocelyn assumes the identify of one of her maids.  Her true identify is revealed when her former fiance, Lord Carnal, a close confident of King James I, arrives in Jamestown looking for his intended.  It turns out that Jocelyn is a ward of the King.  Upon learning this news Ralph is faced with a choice.  He can either renounce his marriage and let Lord Carnal return to England with Jocelyn, enabling him to continue on with his life, or he can reaffirm his commitment to his marriage.  If he chooses the latter option Ralph would be arrested and sent back to England to await trial for marrying a King's ward without permission.  Despite the consequences, Ralph decides to stay married to Jocelyn, the choice preferred by Jocelyn herself.  In their efforts to thwart Lord Carnal's continued efforts to win Jocelyn, Ralph and Jocelyn embark upon an adventure that takes them through the wilderness around Jamestown and even out onto the high seas.   Will Ralph and Jocelyn outfox Lord Carnal or will the wily nobleman win out in the end?  Will their escapades result in the blossoming of real love or will they end up despising one another? 

The greatest strength of To Have and To Hold rests with the characters.  As a couple, Ralph and Jocelyn are easy to root for.  By choosing to stand by Jocelyn's side in the face or Lord Carnal's demands that she return to England, Ralph easily endears himself to readers.  He certainly endeared himself to me.  As for Jocelyn, she proves time and again that she is more than just a pretty face by refusing to give in to Lord Carnal's demands, and by toughing it out in the unknown wilderness and on board ship without complaint.  The novel's secondary characters are also solid, particularly Ralph's servant Diccon and his friend Jeremy Sparrow, both of whom are the source of  many memorable moments in the story.  As the novel's principal antagonist, Lord Carnal proves himself a worthy adversary and is easy to dislike.  The story itself moves along quickly and smoothly, and there is never a dull moment.  I started each chapter in eager anticipation of what it would hold for the hero and heroine.   Given over 100 years have past since To Have and To Hold was originally published in 1900, Johnston's prose does take some getting used to, especially for those used to reading modern historical fiction.  While I often made use of the novel's glossary and my Kindle's dictionary to discover the meaning of some of the more archaic words and expressions littered throughout the story, overall I felt the dated nature of the prose gives the story an authentic feel.   While the romantic element of this book is very tame by the standards of most of today's historical romance novels, I thought the love story between Ralph and Jocelyn to be sweet and reminiscent of some of the romances featured in my favourite works of classical literature.  

Note: A copy of this novel was provided to me by Legacy Romance in return for an impartial and honest review. 


I'm pleased to offer, courtesy of Legacy Romance, a giveaway for a free digital copy of To Have and To Hold to one lucky follower!   Here are the giveaway details:

- To enter, please leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway is open internationally;
- The giveaway will end at midnight on April 5th.  

Good luck!