Top critical review
Started Hopefully, But Tripped Over Careless Details
on November 16, 2001
I found this novel's beginning intriguing and leaped into reading it. Wick captures the emotional upheaval of a thirteen-year-old going home to a family that unknown to her believed that she had drowned at sea as a toddler. The hero, Brandon, a family connection sent to bring her home when the family learns that she is still alive, blends firmness and compassion, and I wondered how Sunny's family would welcome her. My ultimate reaction to the book was mixed.
Liking Christian elements in books, if they aren't simplistic or inserted artificially, I found _The Hawk and the Jewel_ good but wanting. We never hear of Sunny's family attending church, except for two weddings late in the book. Church attendance seemed a naturally unfamiliar experience to show the wilful Sunny adjusting to upon reaching England. Also the person who eventually leads Sunny to her conversion surprised me, not because she has not shown herself to be a friend but because Wick gives no indication beforehand (through the first 4/5 of the story) that this character ever prays or has accepted Christ, beyond her being kind. Beyond those quibbles, the Christianity seemed a natural part of plot and characters.
Unfortunately before I could judge the book's Christian threads, problems kept jerking me out of the mid-1800's and my curiosity about the story. The problems came mostly in Wick's word choices, which repeatedly cracked the illusion of another time and place.
I found it hard to believe in Victorian English women's being named things like Sunny, Chelsea, Andrea, Caren, and Leslie (some of these names existed then but seldom as women's names). Not one character comments on such remarkable naming. Had just one or two of these names occurred, I'd have ignored them better, but Wick piles one upon another, giving most to major characters. Their pile-up without comment strained my belief, esp. since Sunny is named for her grandmother, which required me to accept that a name I already found incredible for a woman 170 years ago had gone back to the previous century.
Further, conversations between characters repeatedly sound like talk among late twentieth-century people or among Americans, instead of natives of England. Sunny's oldest brother tells his sister and brother-in-law, "I want to share" for "I want to tell you about," and then mentions "your _parenting skills_," which didn't sound at all Victorian. Several chapters earlier his wife calls for the attention of some children by saying, "O.K." O.K. was new _American_ slang when the story occurs; although Chelsea is described as having been wild as a girl, she is old enough to expect criticism for using slang when addressing a group of her and others' children. Also, although I cannot say for certain that _no_ Victorian Englishwoman called her mother- or father-in-law by first name, I wondered whether most Victorian English people wouldn't have thought Wick's characters who do so were disrespectful, rather than lovingly informal, as Wick may have intended it. These and words used by the author, like bloomers for ordinary ladies' underpants (which bloomers definitely were not in the mid-19th century, being at first a very controversial ensemble of trousers and shortened skirts that American Amelia Bloomer's cousin had not yet designed at the time of the story, as Wick could have learned from many high-school U.S. history books) and other words that might have been period-correct but sounded more modern and American to me meant that I was repeatedly falling out of and reentering the story while shoving aside annoyance with author and editor.
I tried, after the first third of the story, to read it not as a historical novel but as a fairy tale with Christian elements and Victorian costumes, but only after setting the book aside for an entire year did I manage to get more than halfway through without beginning to skim. Upon restarting the book this year with lower expectations than losing myself in a historical novel --as well as by reading the talking book version this time (talking books are unabridged recordings) instead of the Braille version I had last year--I couldn't forget what bothered me but was able to appreciate the well-developed characters and the story and finished without skimming. I thought that Sunny's reactions to the unexpected, drastic change of moving from the Middle East to England without being asked whether she wanted to, as well as her relatives' reactions, were well-portrayed, and I was glad that Wick did not fall into the stereotype of having Sunny's relatives look down their noses at her for her awkwardness. Her teenage nephew Miles's feelings for a beautiful, young aunt he has just met seemed realistic, and his sister Holly's attempted solution to her brother's attraction is entertaining. The "other woman" with whom Brandon believes himself in love enough to marry also avoids the stereotypes of this stock character of romances, and the subplot involving Holly's long-unrequited love blossoms beautifully.
If you want a romance with fairly well-blended Christian elements and characters who are generally complex enough to be interesting, and if you do not care whether historical details have been checked--or maybe they were incorrectly changed by a misinformed copyeditor--then you will likely enjoy this book, but if you want more convincing historical or English atmosphere, you may have trouble staying lost in the story. I will give Lori Wick another chance, in case she suffered the misfortune of misinformed editors or just stumbled in what seems to have been her first English setting, but I'll be reading with uneasiness.