I discovered Anya Seton last year via her novel The Winthrop Woman, which was displayed in the shop at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, and I am so glad I did.
Her historical novels were impeccably researched and she is an ace storyteller with a knack for writing female protagonists in historic settings.
Plus, Mariner Books has released them in recent years with these incredibly lovely patterned covers and I’m hoping to collect them all.
I chose The Hearth and Eagle as my next Seton novel because it centers on the very same colonial American town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in which The Winthrop Woman is set.
Seton discovered the town when researching her own family history. Apparently she found an ancestor that had lived there and became captivated by the “sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.”
Sounds idyllic, no?
The protagonist of this story is Hesper Honeywell. She is the descendant of Phebe Honeywell who came over from England in 1630. After introducing a very young Hesper, the story flashes back to Phebe’s time, describing her arrival in the colonies and her early life there.
From the first, I found Phebe’s story much more interesting than Hesper’s. There was adventure from the beginning as Phebe struggles through a long ocean journey and then nearly starves to death in the New World. But, alas, we stayed just long enough with her to give a sense of place to Hesper, who lives in Civil War era Marblehead.
Not to worry. Hesper’s family life is rather interesting as Hesper lives with her mother, a tired and resentful woman who has spent her life running the inn, The Hearth and Eagle, with little help from Hesper’s father, an absent-minded professor type obsessed with researching his family’s history.
Hesper helps her mother run the inn but, of course, longs for something more. Love, fulfillment, adventure, something beyond Marblehead. And into her longings wanders artist and avowed Bohemian Evan Redlake.
Thus begins an arduous saga of love and loss and Hesper’s search for meaning in a society that gives women few choices in deciding their own fates.
I’ll leave you with that grand statement. I ended up loving the novel, as I’d hoped I would. And, if you enjoy well-written historical fiction, you will too.