A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers
Published by: Riptide
Format: mobi ARC
Genre: Historical Romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: Compelling, beautifully written historical romance with a complicated relationship developing at its center.
A Gathering Storm broke a DNF-streak that had lasted for weeks, then left me cranky because I didn’t want to read anything else. It’s that kind of book. Joanna Chambers writes historical romance that manages to be restrained but explicit, and steeped in detailed research that immerses you in the Victorian era. A Gathering Storm is part of a collection of books that Riptide is publishing set in Porthkennack, a small village in Cornwall.
Nicholas Hearn is the steward for Geoffrey Roscarrock, the largest landowner in the area. He’s also Geoffrey’s illegitimate grandson, a fact that neither of them acknowledge. He was raised by his Romany mother in a small cottage on the Roscarrock lands, never quite fitting in with with the other young men of the town due to his Romany heritage and the education he received from the Roscarrocks. He was somehow too good for the village boys, yet below them, and raised adjacent to the Roscarrock children, more than a servant but far less than a sibling. He and his mother were their own tiny universe, until her death a year before the events of the book.
Sir Edward Fitzwilliam is a scientist obsessed with communicating with the spirit world following a supernatural experience of his own. He is deeply grieving the loss of his twin brother, who he believes he communicated with at the moment of his death. Consumed by his work and dismissed by the scientific community, Ward buys a remote house in Porthkennack to conduct his experiments.
Ward had not anticipated the superstitions of the villagers, who refuse to help him after rumors spread of him cursing a man to his death. He pursues Nick, believing his Romany blood makes him more attuned to the spirit world, especially as his mother told fortunes for the villagers, and that the recent loss of his mother makes him more likely to be willing to reach out to the other side. Over the course of the book, Ward learns painfully that his assumptions are both incorrect and racist, and he’s not let off the hook for that.
Their relationship starts with blackmail and mistrust, with Ward reluctantly agreeing to participate in Nick’s experiments, and grows as they learn to trust each other. The sexual tension between them explodes fairly quickly, and their sexual relationship begins far before either man fully trusts the other. Nick is very aware of the unequal nature of their relationship, of his relative poverty compared to Ward, of his lower status in society, and spends a lot of time rolling his eyes at Ward’s obliviousness. Nick is a terrific character, solid and strong, and you spend the book cheering for him.
Ward is less easy to like, and I can see why some readers might not warm up to him. He’s also full of privilege and assumptions, which he does become more aware of, but that may not be enough to sway some readers. There is also the historical context of a rich white man coming in to do scientific experiments on someone of a different race because he perceives them to be “other” which honestly can’t be ignored. (I don’t think Chambers ignores it here, by the way. She clearly outlines all the ways in which this is wrong, I just imagine some people may rightfully not be able to get past it.)
I think, overall, the book could have been much longer. The ending felt very rushed, with all the various plot points and emotional issues resolved in one, massive messy climactic scene. I didn’t quite buy that Ward and Nick were where they needed to be, emotionally, by the end of the book. I think there needed to be some more time spent developing the relationship.
That said, this is an immersive book that sweeps you off to Cornwall and sets you right in the Victorian era, exploring their twin obsessions with science and death with beautifully written prose and an eye to the historical implications of those obsessions. I couldn’t put the book down once I started reading it, and I can’t wait to read the other books in this series.
What you may not like: Ward isn’t the most likable character, even though Chambers spends time exploring his motivations and assumptions.
What you’ll love: The setting, the complicated relationship between Nick and Ward, Nick and the other people in the village, Nick and his grandfather…and you’ll just love Nick.
Erin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.
Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe