The Shipbuilder’s Wife, by Jennifer Moore
This is a very skilled romance set during the War of 1812, and it presents a plot whose driving force appears to be the unwillingness of the two main characters to trust each other and communicate with each other. I found this to be somewhat painful, as the lack of communication as a barrier between true love is a devise that hits rather close to home in my own awkwardness. The author’s contrivance to marry the two people together swiftly towards the beginning (always a sign of complications) in a situation that is full of immense danger and chances for both characters to prove their mettle is a good one. This is a skillfully written novel that demonstrates the abilities of Moore to gain a high degree of drama from a situation in which the hero and heroine are well-suited to each other and where their biggest struggle is with their own traumatic past. And if the authors do not necessarily have the language to discuss PTSD in a novel set during the early 19th century, the author appears to be struggling towards that sort of insight both in the incident that disfigures the face of Lydia Prescott as well as the orphaned childhood of Jacob Steele, and shared trauma can make relationships difficult because of the minefields of trust and communication that result, as some of us well know.
This novel is about 200 pages long and it takes place over the months between the beginning of Cochrane’s raids of the Chesapeake and the aftermath of the British raid on Washington DC in 1814. Lydia Prescott is portrayed as a rather silly young woman, flirtatious and looking forward to an advantageous marriage when she is wounded in an explosion during a British attack on her family’s plantation. This wound, being on her face, mars her attractiveness to the eyes of many others within her social circle, if not one Jacob Steele, a daring naval officer and shipbuilder who is also involved in clandestine espionage work for the fledgling republic. He marries Lydia both out of attraction and pity, but the two of them are not able to come to terms with their fears as well as their insecurity about each other, and the marriage is a formal and empty one to start out with. Lydia’s awareness that Jacob is leading a secret life and Jacob’s mistrust in Lydia as a potential spy threaten to destroy their marriage until the Battle of Bladensburg and its aftermath join them together in a fitting and proper way.By the end one gets the feeling that these two people are definitely well-matched.
What makes this novel so successful is that the author is able to create two very sympathetic (or empathetic) lead characters and put them in a situation that tests both of their character in a way that does not make the other party look bad. We feel for these people and their struggles to trust. We wish that they would be able to communicate their observations and recognize that they are both on the same side in many aspects of life, and when they finally do, and their marriage becomes a genuine one instead of a mere marriage of convenience to get Lydia out of the way of being unwanted at home, a triumph that is richly earned because it is a genuine struggle against fear and against the suspicion that comes from a lack of honest and open communication. The characters are not so high and mighty as to be unbelievable but their behavior is immensely correct on a moral level, even as they are involved, whether intentionally or not, in various aspects of sabotage and spycraft, and air of danger that only heightens the enjoyment of the novel.