Nina Jones, the current-day protagonist of Ember Island, is a bestselling author with a shameful secret and a broken heart. She’s trying to write her fourth book in her fine second home, where her great-grandmother grew up in the 1880s on an island off the coast of Australia. Storm damage to the house reveals snatches of her grandmother’s early papers, raising more questions than answers. In the meantime, or rather in the more-than-a-century-ago-time, Tilly, the book’s second heroine, has married the darkly handsome Jasper and moved to his remote home in the Channel Islands, where she suffers his cruelty.
Those are the bare beginnings of the plot of this two-era Australian romance. The story has so many complications that when I tried to explain it to my husband he gently told me that he would need to get back to work before long…
Tilly’s strength comes through vividly; she’s strong despite being shackled by society’s prejudices and strictures. Nina, the modern-day protagonist, is ironically crippled by those same old mindsets and insecurities, countered only by a sensible friend. Nina is over-the-top whiny and insecure for my tastes, but, in the end, the author reveals why she is so fearful.
The 1880s story is the satisfying heart of the book. Tilly is in an impossible situation imposed on her by her era and made worse by her own emotion-driven choices. A heroine with plenty of page-turning fight and flight instincts, she proves her mettle time after time. I finished Ember Island at 2 a.m., going to bed with my head filled with action and 1880s Australian sugar cane fields. Recommended.