An easy read, but pushes the limits of decency and is weak on historical authenticity.
Note: Squeaky Clean Reviews received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. SCR is not obligated to give a positive review.
Mariah Aubrey has a secret, a secret that led to her parents' expelling her from their home and sending her to live in the gatehouse of a manor owned by her aunt. Now she supports herself by writing novels under a pseudonym - another shameful secret. But when her aunt, prior to her death, leaves Mariah a locked chest for fear that its contents will fall into the hands of her stepson, Mariah finds herself surrounded by secrets not her own.
Matthew Bryant is a sea captain lately returned from the Napoleonic Wars with the sole intent of wooing the lady who previously shunned him. His whole life now revolves around that one goal; he uses his prize money to lease a manor house and then proceeds to set his plan into motion. When he makes the acquaintance of Mariah Aubrey, who lives in the gatehouse, he considers her a friend. And even when he begins to see her as something more, her past may come between them.
Mariah's father sent her away after a scandal for fear that she would be a bad influence on her younger sister, which is portrayed as understandable. It is shown that Mariah's actions in the past were wrong, but it does seem as though the writer is implying that Mariah is partially absolved of guilt because of the actions of the other person involved. She lies to keep her aunt's trunk away from Hugh, the stepson, having promised her aunt never to let him have it. She also writes novels in order to pay the bills, although knowing that if her father found out, he would be furious; the right or wrong of her keeping it a secret is questioned, but never plainly answered.
Matthew is obsessed with winning the love of Isabella, even though she is engaged. He has twinges of conscious throughout, but pushes them aside. The resolution of this was questionable, too, as Isabella is jilted, for which she is understandably upset.
Forgiveness is the theme of the story - God's forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Some of the points made about the former are good; the latter, however, seems to take center-stage. Mariah does not attend church because she feels unworthy to do so, and it is never said whether she changes this. Scripture passages occur somewhat spontaneously. A little girl sings a hymn; two old women, too infirm to get to church, say that they can worship God just as well outside (while their absence from church is understandable, the view itself is still biblically questionable).
The "Christian" content of this story was not as out-of-place or random as in some contemporary novels, but it still felt weak and incomplete because of the emphasis on "God loves you, God loves you, God loves you." This is true - God does love His people - but the rest of the truth seemed lacking. One character talks about how everyone has snarls and knots in their life, and one just has to accept God's grace and move on. Repentance does occur, but it is not talked about as such and was slightly obscured behind the theme of forgiveness.
The bloodiness of the Napoleonic Wars is mentioned, and several fictional naval engagements are recounted. The fact that Matthew sacrificed the lives of men on his ship for the acquisition of one more prize is also addressed. A man took a blow on the head which made him "not quite right." Two men sword-fight, although no one is killed.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Port and wine are consumed. It is mentioned that one man seems to have had too much. One person who showed up in another character's history was a drunkard. Champagne is used as a celebratory drink, and one woman's face is said to be flushed with it.
Too heavy. Mariah's past is brought up quite a lot, especially in the second half of the book. Her third novel is basically autobiographical, and the sections quoted from it were not necessary or decent. Another woman was once a prostitute. A girl considers giving herself to a young man in order to protect her brother, and the man's unwanted attentions are mentioned several times. Matthew's sister is said to have been attached to an indecent fellow in her youth. Another unnecessary bit was the talk about the low necks on dresses, and the fact that Matthew looks at Mariah's in a way that, though not portrayed by the authoress to be so, is untoward. He also kisses her while still pursuing Isabella.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
"Blast" and "dash it" are substituted for the oaths that naval officers were more likely to use. "Wh***" is used to refer to that sort of woman. "Great Poseidon" is exclaimed. One man mocks Mariah and her "lack of virtue" in a public setting.
"The Girl in the Gatehouse" is a Regency novel, obviously inspired by Jane Austen. This is understandable, since Austen's novels are the preeminent stories of that era, but Ms. Klassen takes it a little too far; Matthew Bryant's story seems to leap directly from the pages of Persuasion and the character of Captain Wentworth; she even takes one line from "Persuasion," quotes it at the top of a chapter in "The Girl in the Gatehouse," and then applies it almost verbatim to her hero. The authoress also used two names from Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South: 'Dixon,' and that of the fictional town created by Gaskell, 'Milton.' This went overboard on being inspired by Jane Austen or the other classic writers.
From details here and there in the novel it is clear that Ms. Klassen researched for it, but there were still things that rang hollow. Authentic points of the Regency Era (such as the disreputability of the "novel" genre) were mixed with contemporary prose and dialogue, making it jarring. Also, while Ms. Klassen throws in some accurate points concerning the Navy, in general the dialogue used by seafaring men is pirate-y and the accounts of naval battles were cliché.
Perhaps my biggest issue, however, was with the sexual content. While I understand the point of the novel having to include Mariah's past, some parts were simply unnecessary - notably the parts from her third novel, "The Tale of Lydia Sorrow," and Matthew's ungentlemanly conduct in kissing her, etc. It seemed written to appeal to a secular audience in search of a romance, and so was speckled with things that pushed the limits of decency. This, above all else, made finishing it difficult.