Book review · historical fiction · Reading · Uncategorized

Shipwreck, smugglers, and scoundrels – oh, my!

Danger at sea, survivors of shipwreck, smugglers and scoundrels filled my mind and had me hooked while reading “The Light at Wyndcliff” by Sarah E. Ladd. The third book in the Cornwall Novels series took place in 1820 and opened with a prologue introducing a new character to the series, Evelyn Bray. She and her widowed mother were leaving Keverne Park bound for Wyndcliff. The family suffered a societal set down because of Evelyn’s grandfather Rupert Bray’s failed business dealings.

Accustomed to a better station in life, Evelyn’s mother left her daughter behind with her grandfather who raised her, while she made tracks for Plymouth. Evelyn’s longing for her absent mother made for an emotional journey of self-worth and discovery from the beginning. Her mother promised to come back for her. But time had passed, mother remarried, and the dream of their reunion and plans faded. Evelyn was in a sort of limbo. Enter the love interest. Returning character, William “Liam” Twethewey, 22, arrived at his inherited estate, Wyndcliff, where he met Evelyn on the moors who needed assistance with a pony and cart stuck in the bog.

Liam’s goal early on for the estate was to open a china clay pit that his uncle had planned before he died. The money from such an endeavor would support the estate’s tenants, while adding to the estate coffers. Win-win, right? Not from the viewpoint of Liam’s steward Rupert Bray, who seemed to think he knew better what the estate needed. Bray wanted Liam to focus on the shipwrecks and free trading and drop the china clay “money” pit dreams. He claimed the villagers depended on free trading to live, and the china clay pit would draw the ire of tin and copper mine owners because it would take workers from them.

Free trading meant the villagers would show up on the beach whenever there was a distressed ship. They were supposed to save the people on board as well as retrieve the goods. For their efforts, they would receive money from the estate. The law said the owner of the estate would hold on to the goods for the survivors or the original owners in the event that lay claim to them. When the year passed, the items became the landowner’s possessions, and the estate paid taxes to the king’s Customs, or excise men. It all sounded above board, if not a bit barbaric.  

I got the sense from Bray’s harsh tone with Liam as well as his condescending attitude toward the young master that he was up to something illegal. Evelyn believed her grandfather only had the best interest of the village in mind, especially the poor. Listening in on the side conversations between Bray and Jim Bowen, a rival for Evelyn’s hand, should have been enough for her to question grandpa really. The story drew me in to play detective because the fact was I knew as little as Liam and Evelyn. Over time Ladd revealed her hand, but in small doses so she hooked me as a reader, like she always does!

And now I have a better understanding of the terrible history of smuggling and wrecking. I knew by the very word “smuggling” that people were breaking the law, just not how depraved their actions were beyond theft. I remembered scenes from the Poldark series where villagers attacked sailors who swam to shore after a wreck. I searched under “smuggling and wrecking” on the Internet and read that those aboard a struggling ship were doomed because the law made it illegal to take anything from a ship if people SURVIVED. On top of that, the novel included a rumor that villagers acted like mermaids, except instead of luring sailors to their death with song they lured with lights making captains believe they could safely bring their ship to shore. Then – WHAM! Shipwreck and death. Check out the history of smugglers and wreckers here.

While each of the three stories connected to the other as far as the characters, each novel stood on its own, too. Ladd built in a bit of back story in books 2 and 3 as a reminder. That information became a teaser if you hadn’t read the first book.

Coming to the end of this third novel, I actually stopped myself from finishing when I realized Liam’s plan.

Me: “Ooooh, this is going to be good!”

I saved it to read before I went to sleep. It was perfectly perfect, so I won’t give that away.

For reviews on the previous books in Ladd’s Cornwall Novels series, check out “The Governess of Penwythe,” book 1 and “The Thief at Lanwyn Manor,” book 2. For more information about Sarah E. Ladd, visit her website here.


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