Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books.
Paperback, 288 pages.
Release date: August 4th 2011.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Jen.
Emerald St. John is in trouble. She has been condemned to marry a man she hates. Her enemies are conspiring to have her pet bear Molly torn apart in the baiting pits, and the man she loves is far away on the high seas. And she has stumbled into a web of spies with a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth I. To save herself and the kingdom, she must beat the spies at their own game - which means transforming herself from a country girl into a Court lady. Can she do it in time? Set against a detailed and vivid recreation of a great Elizabethan manor house, EMERALD will bring to life a world where the most sophisticated rules of etiquette went hand in with brutality and superstition.
Karen Wallace’s historical fiction novel Emerald may be set in the late 1500’s, but the story’s tone is decidedly more modern. The book’s heroine and namesake, Emerald, is a feisty country girl with a sharp and snarky attitude. Faced with a life of adversity, Emerald is never one to back down. Set in a time when women were expected to be obedient and compliant Emerald is the story of one girl who refuses to lose herself in the expectations of others.
Life has not been easy for Emerald St. John. Born to a mother who had no desire to nurture her children and a father who had no idea how Emerald counted on her older brother Richard to provide her with love and comfort. When Emerald’s father dies suddenly her entire world is turned upside down. Without explanation Emerald and Richard are sent from their home to live with distant friends of their father. His will specifically stated that the children were to leave their home upon his death to live in the country with “Uncle” Charles and “Aunt” Frances. Despite the sting of her mother’s rejection Emerald enjoyed life at Hawkstone Hall. She forged a close relationship with her Aunt Frances, who in many ways became the mother Emerald never had. The only complication came in the form of Charles and Frances’ daughter Arabella, a vain and selfish girl two years older than Emerald. When Arabella was not in London working in the Queen’s court she was at Hawkstone Hall making Emerald as miserable as possible. Upon Emerald’s fifteenth birthday she is faced with horrible news: her mother, who has sold Emerald’s childhood home and remarried has betrothed her only daughter to a much older man named Lord Suckley. Suckley is not the type of man any parent would want to leave their daughter alone with, let alone marry. It is upon learning her fate that Emerald decides she will not go quietly into her new life.
There were many things about Emerald that I really enjoyed. When Emerald learns of her engagement to Suckley she is not at all naïve about why he wants to marry her. She is absolutely terrified of what horrible things Suckley will want to do with her. The character of Suckley is disgusting and despicable. He has no qualms about the fact that he is attracted to Emerald due to her much younger age. As a reader I hated him just as much as Emerald did. Another character I loved to hate was Arabella. She is absolutely evil! The only person she cares about is herself. She is an expert at using and manipulating people to get whatever it is that she wants. Emerald finally realizes that rather than spar with Arabella she needed to learn from her in order to save herself from her horrible predicament.
Another facet of this story that I loved was the amount of unexpected twists that seemed to bombard the reader once the story really got going. As a high school Reading Specialist I read a lot of young adult fiction and have become very adept at predicting what will happen next. Emerald threw me for a loop on more than one occasion. I had a very difficult time predicting where the story was going due to the amount of twists and turns the plot took. Many seemed to come right out of the blue when I least expected it. This story kept me on my toes and absolutely needing to know what was going to happen next.
The only part of the story that fell flat was the romance. First, I felt the back of the book was misleading. It describes Emerald as being in love with a man who is off at sea and unable to prevent her unfortunate marriage to Lord Suckley. Much of the beginning of the book is spent on describing Emerald’s love for her brother Richard, who is off at sea, and how he will be the only one who can overrule their mother in the matter of Emerald’s marriage. I was really worried that this was the extent of the story’s romance: Emerald being in love with her brother. I truly did not want the story to go there, yet for a while it seemed to be headed in that direction. Luckily when Richard finally shows up he brings a fellow shipmate named Sam. Sam and Emerald barely spend anytime together or interact when two weeks after Sam’s arrival at Hawkstone he and Emerald finally have a conversation and fall immediately in love. There was nothing leading up to this relationship and the whole plot line fell flat. Although, what Emerald lacks in romance it more than makes up for in mystery as Emerald is recruited to help prevent an assassination plot against the Queen in order to secure her freedom Lord Suckley.
Historical fiction is not my favorite genre and I usually avoid reading it, yet Emerald has made me a fan. This is a story that will keep the reader guessing what will happen next. I loved the vivid characters and especially Emerald’s snarky attitude and zest for freedom. She is strong and beautiful and I found myself rooting for her from the very first page.