Promise Bridge is the debut novel from Schwab, a talented new voice in historical fiction. The novel is set in pre-Civil War Virginia, where tensions are running high and danger lurks around every corner. Hannelore Blessing is a young woman with a privileged though unhappy upbringing. Her parents died when she was a child, and she was taken in by her mother’s sister, plantation owner Aunt Augusta. Hannah and her long-time friend, Colt, encounter a group of runaway slaves in the woods near the plantation, one of whom, named Livie, is accidentally wounded by Colt. Since Livie cannot travel, Hannah and Colt devise a plan so that she becomes Hannah’s servant and is therefore somewhat protected while she heals.
A deep friendship quickly grows between Hannah and Livie; however, each woman lives under the constant threat of having their friendship discovered. Twitch, the overseer at the next plantation, keeps a watchful eye on the two of them and threatens Hannah. Hannah promises to protect Livie, but soon discovers that in order to do what is best for her friend; she must find the strength to let Livie go so she can travel north to freedom.
The novel focuses on Hannah’s growing realization of the social injustices that occur everyday on the plantation, something that Hannah had not given much though to before befriending Livie. Throughout the course of the novel, Hannah learns to trust what is in her heart and forge her own path, even if that means defying the social standards of the South. The only drawback is that at times the dialogue is a bit forced and unrealistic. All in all, Promise Bridge is a moving story of the power of friendship, trust, and learning to open one’s heart to love and new possibilities. Very much recommended.