England, 1772. Shortly after news arrives of their father’s death, the Banning sisters also learn of his mounting debts. Determined to save their home and provide a dowry for her sisters so they wouldn’t need to enter into a loveless marriage, Keturah decides to travel to their father’s sugar plantation on the island of Nevis to try and save their fortunes. Her two sisters agree to join her. Thus, accompanied by their most trusted servants, they board a ship for the West Indies. When they arrive, the English ladies must quickly adapt to the harsh prejudices and financial strains of island life. Additionally, painful shadows from Keturah’s earlier failed marriage continue haunting her. Can these women, without chaperones to “keep them in their place,” make their father’s plantation into a success once again?
This is a time of slavery, and Bergren is sensitive to this issue. While kind to their Black servants and African slaves, I’d hoped Keturah would have been nicer to one particular slave as the story progressed: her father’s housekeeper, Mitilda. Keturah never really thanks Mitilda for the help she provides, more than once, in saving the plantation.
Keturah is a determined but deeply scarred individual. Her healing process is sensitively developed as she struggles to come to terms with her past and her faith in God. She is supported by a delightful dash of sisterly love, which I found to be the story’s heart. The meticulously realized island setting is also a gem that Bergren polishes to a shine. Despite these efforts, though, the pace is slow. I wasn’t strongly compelled to keep turning the pages. With its light romance and lovely environs, an atmosphere in which cruelty affects innocent people, and somewhat predictable plot points, I’m left unsure whether I’d read the next book of the Sugar Baron’s Daughter series.