A neglected teenager is packed off to an English country house to be ignored by her uncle in this highly entertaining debut.
How bored is Anna Ware? When handed a packet of 19th-century letters written by a former owner of Kersey Hall, the 15-year-old dropout actually reads them. Major Stephen Fairhurst lost his leg and his love in the Napoleonic wars. His arranged engagement to a young widow has fallen through (she couldn't handle his disability), but he has struck up a correspondence with her sister, an independent-minded artist. (Hence, the letters.) While Stephen tries to move forward while locked firmly in the past, in 1976, Anna has taken on more than even the most cynical teen can handle. Kersey Hall has secrets more appalling than Thornfield Hall, and the summer's one bright spot, her friendship with a worldly photographer couple, comes equipped with its own perils.
Emma Darwin is an assured writer, and manages the styles of both 1819 and 1976 quite handily. Fans of Anita Shreve's "Fortune's Rocks" and A.S. Byatt's superior "Possession" will probably gobble it down in one sitting. While she teases out parallels between Stephen's and Anna's stories, a psychic connection feels like an unnecessary contrivance. And even if "the mathematics of love defies arithmetic," as a character claims, one liaison indulges in some seriously fuzzy math. Grade: B+
– Yvonne Zipp