Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Veil of Pearls by Marylu Tyndall

★★☆☆
Barbour Books, July 1st 2012
320 Pages 
 "It is 1811, and the prosperous port city of Charleston is bustling with plantation owners, slaves and immigrants. Immigrants such as the raven-haired Adalia Winston. But Adalia has a secret: her light skin belies that she is part black and a runaway slave from Barbados. Skilled in herbal remedies, Adalia finds employment with a local doctor and settles into her quiet life, thankful for her freedom but still fearful that her owner will find her.

Born into one of Charleston's prominent families, Morgan Rutledge is handsome, bored—and enamored of the beautiful Adalia, who spurns his advances. Morgan's persistence, however, finally wins, and Adalia is swept into the glamorous world of Charleston high society.

But Adalia's new life comes at a high price—that of denying her heritage and her zeal for God. How far is she willing to go to win the heart of the man she loves? And when her secret is revealed, will that love be enough, or will the truth ruin Morgan and send Adalia back into slavery?
"

Veil of Pearls was my first read by Marylu Tyndall, and sadly I couldn’t really get on with it for the most part. Yes, it had a sound and challenging Christian theme about slavery, both spiritual and physical, but I found that in many ways the story was lacking. It seemed very clichéd (and at times a little predictable), and I think I for one could never really warm to Adalia’s character.

Even though her whole life in Charleston was based on essentially a lie, she just came across as very self-righteous and sanctimonious, especially in her treatment of Morgan when she believed him to be dishonest, or the way she seemed to respond to every difficult situation they faced with platitudes.

Whilst her condemnation of racial prejudice and slavery might have been commendable, she was incredibly prejudiced herself towards the upper classes in society, which seemed like rank hypocrisy. Admittedly her prejudice could be seen as arising from her circumstances and background, I did not think it was ever really challenged or questioned.

Quite the contrary, the almost universal depiction of the upper classes as arrogant, lazy, pampered fops, and the men as lechers, alongside that claim that such behaviour was ‘expected’ of their class seemed to me to be a reflection perhaps of the opinion and viewpoint of the author, and not just of the characters.
Perhaps it is a view common to Americans, I don’t know, but I for one find it difficult to believe that there would not have been any ‘bad eggs’ amongst the lower classes in any society, or any good Christians amongst the upper classes and gentry.
Also, I didn’t think that Morgan’s father expecting him to learn how to run his family’s plantation, and his demanding this as conditional to accepting Morgan’s request to marry Adalia was unreasonable.
Why shouldn’t he expect his son to learn how to run the estate? Just because Morgan found it boring or taxing because he wanted to be a sailor did not make it bad or evil. Really he could be seen as the selfish and immature one in that scenario.

On a historical level I also had a number of problems with this work-I only spotted one major inaccuracy, the reference to a ‘Victorian’ item of furniture in 1811, before Victoria came to the throne, but there may have been others as some have mentioned. I don’t know much about slavery, or the legal technicalities of this period, but I don’t think I found it entirely plausible that a woman who was three-quarters white could be kept as a slave, or even that Sir Walter could have had a legal title to her, as she was freeborn, and he essentially kidnapped her rather than buying her legally.

Finally, there was the historical setting itself- shortly before the war of 1812, and the blame for causing it was laid squarely on the shoulders of the wicked British. Perhaps this is to be expected in a novel written by an American, but I have an issue with this, and the way that no mention was made of the actions of the American government, nor their role in starting the war- such as the ambition to invade Canada.
As far as I know, Impressment seems to have essentially just an excuse and the war was not all the fault of the British. Nor am I convinced that the blaming of the British is simply representing the view of people at the time as I don’t think everyone in America would have been ignorant of the actions of their leaders.

Overall, Veil of Pearls was not a book I enjoyed, or would particularly recommend. I understand where the author might have been coming from with the theme, but perhaps there was too much clichéd romantic mush, typecasting, prejudice and nationalistic Brit-bashing for my liking.

Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to have a free copy for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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