It’s 1861 and civil war has come to the United States, pitting the North against the South. Charles Adams is sent to England by President Lincoln to be the minister for the Union, along with his wife Abby Adams and son Henry. Henry’s old college friend Baxter Sam attends the Royal College of Surgeons to become skilled in the trade of a physician and falls in love with London resident Julia Birch. While Charles and Henry politically battle those in England supplying the Confederacy, Baxter struggles with his loyalties to friends, his love, and his family.
I completely loved Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman’s Broken Promises. The cover, like the book, radiates sophistication and English reserve. I liked Julia from the very beginning, and although I wasn’t sure I’d like Charles Adams I very much enjoyed reading about him and his family. All the characters were extremely likable, and I felt a strong connection to every one of them. Julia’s romance with Baxter was forbidden by society and judgmental parents, difficult in the way that the couple had to work to overcome barriers in their relationship, tender, and most importantly to me, clean. Just the way I like my love stories. The muddied logic of war and how it impacted friendships and relationships was expertly woven into the story, most memorably with Baxter’s split loyalties. He’s against slavery, yet all his friends and family live in the south. His home is being attacked, his brothers are in the war, what else can he do but help?
I was frustrated along with Charles and his son Henry as they attempted to aid the Union from London against Britain’s overwhelming favor of the Confederacy despite being neutral and the government's reluctance to interfere with those supplying the south. The language was exactly what I would have expected from that time period, and had lots of big words. The kind that left me scrambling for a dictionary like inauspicious, asinine, punctilious, aplomb, itinerant, assiduous, sangfroid, perspicacity, and others. Words you don’t hear every day. I enjoyed them greatly, but I bet there are some who wouldn’t like the lesson in vocabulary. The beginning of each chapter had a quote from famous people, journals, books, letters, and newspapers, equally split between views supporting the Confederates and the Union.
The details about Charles Adams’ family, time in England as minister, and letters were all true, as well as the reactions and viewpoint he had on the war. The newspaper articles and editorials he read, as well as the people he met were meticulously researched, not to mention battle dates, conditions in the prisons, English culture, and any number of other aspects of this novel, which could have only gotten harder considering she wrote this book while teaching in Ireland. Days upon weeks of hard-core historical reading created this amazing book where the true life of Charles Adams is mixed tastefully with a fictional romance in a completely realistic picture of the Civil War. I applaud this book, and will definitely be recommending it to my friends.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, PhD, is a winner of the Allan Nevins Prize for Literary Distinction in the Writing of History. She is currently a Hoover Institute Fellow at Stanford University and she holds the Dwight Stanford Chair in American foreign relations at San Diego State University. Dr. Hoffman is a native Californian, graduate of Stanford, wife, and mother of four. She is the author of several books of history. Broken Promises, which she began writing on a Fulbright grant, is her first novel.
- This reviewer also blogs at www.gardeningliterature.blogspot.com
- Publisher: Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks
- Date of Publication: March 29, 2011