An Independent Heart

Written by Elizabeth Grant
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

February 1814: A pawn in her brother’s bid to enter Parliament, Claire Lammond enters into an arranged marriage with Captain Justin Sumners, lately returned from the Peninsular Wars. The action of the book covers the two months until the defeat of Bonaparte in April. She is intelligent and determined, and he complex, principled, and astute; the story follows the couple as they find their way to what turns out to be a companionate meeting of minds – and love.

Summarised like that, the book could be a straightforward romance in a historical setting, but it is rather more than that. This is Grant’s first published novel, but I would doubt it is the first she has written, as her style is extremely polished and assured. Dialogues are so vivid that this reader sometimes felt she was eavesdropping. Only the very first pages felt less sure, those dealing with Sumners’s return from Spain with his batman. Grant hits her stride writing of the interiors her characters inhabit, in her minute observation of nature, in the nuanced speech of the servants and the country people, and above all, in the portraits of Claire’s sisters, who though younger, are as differentiated as the Bennets – all this in addition to her utterly convincing principal characters.

Grant’s story is impeccably researched, from the ice-floes on the Thames where Claire and Justin first meet, to the arguments around the enclosure of common land, to the music Claire decides to play. This is an entrancing novel with a most distinctive voice.