Title: A Gathering Storm (A Porthkennack Novel)
Author: Joanna Chambers
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 309 Pages
At a Glance: I have yet to read a Joanna Chambers book I didn’t find to be beautifully executed, and this one doesn’t break that streak.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother.
In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate steps in to lend a hand.
Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal.
A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.
Review: In the fictional town of Porthkennack on the Cornwall coast, it’s the year 1853. Scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam has built a stately home near a place the locals call the Hole, a place Ward hopes the atmospheric conditions during a storm can be manipulated to mimic those of a storm he experienced while shipboard—a storm where he was visited by the spirit of his twin brother at the moment of George’s death. Ward’s conviction that he will be able to recreate the precise conditions that will allow him to cross the veil and speak with George again has not only informed nearly every aspect of Ward’s life in the year since the otherworldly visitation occurred, but his devotion to proving that it’s possible has cost Ward his once sterling reputation in the scientific community.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Ward does nothing to endear himself to the locals, either, when he offers payment in exchange for test subjects to help with his experiments. He also requests that they meet a specific criterion which would make them the most ideal of participants, though it does come off as rather callous in the asking. Ward’s own social class sets him apart as well, and he sometimes flaunts this as a matter of course more so than out of a conscious effort to alienate the people he hopes to win over. One of the other things that sets Ward apart—something that Chambers uses as such a unique facet of Ward’s character composition—is a byproduct of a childhood illness. It’s not that this particular trait added to who Ward was as much as I loved that it was something about him which made him seem more vulnerable, less perfect than his staid and starched outward appearance would suggest, and therefore it made him a touch more accessible.
When rumor spreads that Ward’s mesmerism may have been the indirect cause of a man’s death, his well of test subjects dries up, but Ward is nothing if not persistent, which leads to local outcast Nick Hearn, the bastard grandson of Godfrey Roscarrock. By virtue of his mother’s Romany heritage, Nick is a nowhere man; he is a chameleon who adapts depending upon whom he’s with, yet he doesn’t ever quite fit in where he is. And, some of the locals are happy to remind him of that in the bluntest of terms. As Roscarrock’s land steward, Nick has carved out a comfortable, if not full, life for himself in Porthkennack. A life that is, no doubt, a little lonely. When Ward finds Nick at the local pub and learns that Nick might be the perfect test subject, it leads to a tense and rather humiliating scene that sees Nick refusing Ward’s offer under no uncertain terms. Until, that is, Nick feels he has no choice.
Eavesdropping on a compromising conversation, a situation that could expose Nick’s deepest secret, gives Ward the perfect opportunity to coerce Nick’s participation in the experiment, even as Ward himself is committing a lie of omission in his manipulation of the scenario. And this is where it all begins for these two men, on wholly uneven footing, apart from the fact that they are already divided by their social standing. When a man feels his choices have been taken from him, and his truths are being used as a means of assuring his grudging cooperation, it doesn’t make for an easy road to love. But, Joanna Chambers makes it believable and romantic, and I loved the journey she takes these two men on.
As is always the case with a historical romance, setting is everything. The sense of time and place that grounds the reader in Porthkennack in the 19th century is perfection without any attempt at all to give readers a history lesson. The time and storyline melded perfectly, in fact, because of the uptick in the Victorian fascination with the supernatural during a time when scientific progress was also on the rise, and I love how it all tied in with Ward’s efforts to conjoin the physical and the metaphysical realms.
A Gathering Storm is such a great metaphor for Ward and Nick’s relationship as it builds up to its single defining moment. Theirs is an opposites attracts story in which Ward’s privilege and grief and desperation to defy death cause him to make what might have been some unforgiveable blunders were Nick any less capable of forgiving. I loved Nick a lot, actually, and I loved the way he and Ward complemented each other in their differences, and how Nick helped Ward to understand that letting go of George doesn’t mean he must stop loving or remembering him.
I have yet to read a Joanna Chambers book I didn’t find to be beautifully executed, and this one doesn’t break that streak. In fact, this might just be my favorite of all the books that I’ve read by this author so far. Honestly, it had me all-in at the Prologue, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
You can buy A Gathering Storm here: