All you romance fans who keep asking for historicals set somewhere other than Britain or America, who pine for exotic settings and lush surroundings, who dream of tropical paradises – hie ye to a bookstore and purchase Jill Marie Landis' new release, Glass Beach. Granted it is set in Hawaii, but the Hawaii Landis takes her readers to is very different from the Americanized island we know today. This is Hawaii before annexation, when a king still ruled, and when the cultures and peoples who have since melded to create the unique society of today were still in conflict.
Elizabeth Bennett has just been widowed, much to her relief. She had been sent by her one time missionary aunt and uncle to marry Franklin Bennett after she had brought disgrace into their narrow world. At 18, the trek to Hawaii promised a new beginning, even if her husband-to-be was forty years older. But her dream had turned into a nightmare. Franklin's death meant that her beloved, frail five-year-old daughter would inherit Mauna Noe Ranch, and Elizabeth would be free to start over once again.
But Franklin betrayed Elizabeth in death as he had in life. When his will was read, it was discovered that he had not left Elizabeth in charge but had rather appointed Spencer Laamea joint trustee and heir should Hadley not reach her eighteenth birthday.
Spence was a hapa haole, half-white and half-Hawaiian, the offspring of Franklin's long ago liaison with a native woman. As a child, Spence had dreamed that one day his father would return and recognize his son. But Franklin's Georgian-bred racial prejudice (as well as his selfish personality) prevented any reconciliation. Spence had planned to spurn any bequest from the man he had never known but had come to despise. But when he realizes that his rejection of the role of trustee would result in Elizabeth's and Hadley's losing their home, he feels he cannot refuse. Moreover, there is the challenge of making Mauna Noe a success where his father had failed.
Elizabeth finds it difficult if not impossible to trust this intruder into her life. She has been betrayed at every turn: by her parents who died and left her impoverished and at the mercy of her unloving aunt and uncle; by the young man who claimed to love her but abandoned her; by her aunt and uncle who could not forgive her youthful transgression; by her husband who repaid her honesty with violence. How could she trust a man who would benefit should her daughter die? How could she understand the concept of honor when she had always been treated dishonorably?
How these two people come to trust, like, and finally love each other is the meat of Glass Beach. But, they must overcome more than their own pasts. They must overcome the social stigma that forbids a relationship between a white woman and a Hawaiian.
Landis surrounds this most satisfactory romance with a description of Hawaii in 1888 that carries the reader to another time and place. She also provides a fine secondary romance between the foreman and his childhood sweetheart.
But at the center are Elizabeth and Spence, two wounded souls who heal each other and who must admit that their love is more important than any social barriers that might seek to keep them apart.
I loved the Hawaiian setting. Might I hope that the Epilogue might offer the promise of more stories that will revisit both the characters and the place? Jill Marie Landis has created other linked books in the past. Please, Ms. Landis, give us more. And now I have to figure out how to get my husband on a plane, since we can't drive to Hawaii and I want to go!