A Light Regency Romance With a Touch of Darkness
Dawn at Emberwilde
by Sarah E. Ladd
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Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.
For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady yet unexciting role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would provide her a steady environment to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.
The unexpected arrival of a striking stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.
At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with mysterious rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. And perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.
At Emberwilde, Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.
“We are each on our own journey, and nothing is by accident.”
How often have you looked back at the end of a trying time and understood that what you first perceived as stumbling blocks turned out to be stepping stones? The quote above is spoken by our heroine, Isabel, near the end of Dawn at Emberwilde, the second in Sarah E. Ladd’s Treasures of Surrey series.
In life, perspective makes all the difference. It can be difficult to remember that God is at work when we are too closely connected to the threads of our own story. Eventually, time and distance allow us to begin to view the larger picture. Though we don’t have the luxury of crystal balls or time machines so that we might anticipate our future, we have certain tools at our disposal: prayer and history. We can learn from our past as well as from the stories of others, fictional characters included.
Isabel’s journey begins at Fellsworth School. Though she is a bit of a dreamer, Isabel would never imagine a future for herself that included grand estates, invitation-only dinner parties, dancing, and marriage. Not a chance! She knows her place in the world, and it’s not attending balls or enjoying “a season” trying to secure the heart (or fortune) of an eligible bachelor. As orphaned wards, she and her little sister Lizzie are likely headed for a life as teachers or governesses. But with the sudden arrival of a tall, dark stranger at Fellsworth, Isabel’s life is turned upside down.
Some readers have referred to Dawn at Emberwilde as a Cinderella story or rags to riches tale. You might also consider Isabel as an “Alice” who has gone down the rabbit hole. Indeed, from a utilitarian life as a charity ward, she is thrust into the extravagant world of the landed gentry. Even more disorienting, although there are no strange women hidden in the attic at Emberwilde, the house does appear to have secrets connected to local lore surrounding dark mysteries in the Emberwilde Forest (or as the locals call it — the Black Forest).
Before I wrap up, I want to take a moment to discuss this as a work of Christian fiction. I’ve seen some readers who have wanted more overt Christianity tied into the novel. Some have even gone so far as to say it could have been released as a general market title. In the 19th-century, perhaps. Today? Not likely. Just because the novel doesn’t evangelize doesn’t mean there aren’t Christian messages. I’d argue that, in a sense, this is more Christian because it’s more realistic. We don’t walk through life being pointed to little signs neatly explaining what God is teaching us. Nor do we often run into people with whom we’ve previously spoken very little and suddenly start speaking at length about God and Jesus. Okay, maybe some of you do. But my life hasn’t worked that way. So why should a novel be expected to do so?
Although this is a romance novel, it’s the mystery and the unanswered questions that kept me happily turning the pages. Not to mention the fact that Isabel’s outsider status allows her a critical appraisal of the so-called “good life” of the wealthy. She’s a heroine worthy of your affection. I only wish we could have had more of her story.
Don’t let the fact that Dawn At Emberwilde is the second in a series deter you; the novel stands completely alone. Although this was my first experience reading a book by Sarah E. Ladd, it has not only found a welcome home in my library, but will soon have the company of other Ladd books. This Regency should find favor with folks who enjoy Julie Klassen or Jane Austen. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Dawn at Emberwilde today!
— Dawn Teresa
4.5 of 5 Hearts. A Light Regency Romance With a Touch of Darkness.
The interplay between dark and light in Dawn at Emberwilde makes for a satisfying experience. Like Isabel, readers will be drawn to the mysterious dark woods in search of answers, buoyed by the wise words of her friend Mary, dazzled by the prestige and privilege of wealth, yet confounded at how anyone could choose a life of stability over a home filled with love. Indeed, with Dawn at Emberwilde, Sarah E. Ladd demonstrates that life is neither all light nor all dark, but a delicate dance between the two — one made more secure, not by wealth or status, but by faith and love.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Litfuse Publicity Group and TNZ’s Fiction Guild for providing me with copies of Dawn at Emberwilde in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”