The year is 1585, Queen Elizabeth I is on the English throne, and the clash between Papists and Protestants is a full-scale war. The religious war forms the background of Forsaking All Other and is an integral part of the novel. This is a powerful story steeped in the religious conflicts of the time both personally and because Edmund Wyard, the male lead, is a soldier determined to protect England from Papist plotting. Bess Stoughton finds herself torn between personal loyalties and those to her Queen in a way that illustrates the difficulties of the environment as little else could.
This novel is a romance between Bess and Edmund, one full of troubles and triumphs. It is also a work of historical fiction, illuminating the political and religious beliefs prevalent then. Bess sets out to find herself a better match by running away and disguising her true situation when her father decides to use her to regain a parcel of land sold to the neighbor generations before. She’d accepted his first choice of a husband, as every good daughter should, and been widowed after an unhappy marriage. Bess refuses to give in to a lecherous man old enough to be her grandfather who lusts after little girls and happily invited her younger half-sisters to come live with them once this farce of a marriage was complete.
She might have issues with her father for remarrying so quickly when her mother died and envy the happy home he made for his second family, but she would not allow her half-sisters to suffer abuse at her hand. This sends Bess on a desperate mission to find a suitable husband after begging her father for a year’s grace in the letter she left behind.
Not only does this premise work within the rules of the time, by skirting them, but for those unaware of women’s place, the author finds an innocent child in Bess’s step sister to ask the question of where the rules of fidelity and rights lie. Bess answers truthfully that a man is not held accountable but the woman bears all.
This is just one example of how the novel is ripe with position, power, and lineage, especially with how those only recently joined to the higher ranks exert their position forcefully with no consideration to others. Cruel spite and sheer selfishness rule while those with good hearts are easily led astray in their attempt to aid others. The novel is very rich in the history and makes it come alive as you see how people are treated and the costs of those treatments.
As to the love story, it winds throughout. We get to see the relationship develop from contempt to respect and finally care for each other. Bess sees through to the spirit and heart Edmund hides behind his gruff exterior, having neither the good looks or trust in women to make his ventures successful. He is reluctantly willing to concede to his mother’s assistance in finding a bride, but that concession comes to haunt him. His mother is a cruel, heartless woman holding herself blameless when his father sought comfort in a mistress and yet punishing her sons for their father’s choice.
This is far from a simple story, and there were moments that made me fearful or brought me to tears. Circumstances, both accidental and deliberate, do much to tear Bess and Edmund apart in ways heavily dependent on the events of that period. The yoke of history does not lie easy on their lives, nor is their love given the blessing of their friends and family. Ultimately, this is a romance and lives up to the promise of a happy ending. They must work hard to earn those final moments, though.
The historical notes at the end make for an interesting read as well. Not only do you learn more about the resources used, but also the difficult balance of writing a book true to the setting that still appeals to modern sensibilities. And for those concerned about the level of sensuality, while their love is strong, it is consummated behind closed doors and after they have exchanged vows.
I’ve tried to give a glimpse into the wealth of detail and complication in this story without any direct spoilers. I hope my enjoyment is clear as I felt drawn into this story where two less than perfect people find their other half and overcome mountains to secure a happily ever after. It’s well worth the time spent in Catherine Meyrick’s hands.
P.S. I received this title from BooksGoSocial through NetGalley in return for an honest review.