Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Write-Up: Against the Tide, by Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden.  Against the Tide.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

I said after reading Until the Dawn that I wanted to read more Elizabeth Camden novels.  I just read Elizabeth Camden’s Against the Tide, and my conclusion is that this was a good decision that I made.
Against the Tide is set in the late 1800s.  In 1876, Lydia Pallas’ father and mother brought her to America from Greece.  The father was Greek, and the mother was Turkish, so they were ostracized in Greece.  Soon after arriving in America, Lydia’s parents were deported back to Greece.  Lydia stayed behind in America and was sent to an orphanage.  While there, the supervisors gave the kids doses of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup to calm them down.  Lydia has been taking that syrup for years, particularly for her headaches.

(UPDATE: I may have misunderstood what happened to Lydia's parents.  It appears that they were lost at sea.  That part of the book was difficult for me to understand, since it was from the perspective of Lydia, who did not know English and was piecing things together.)

Lydia learned English and grew up to work as a translator for the Office of Naval Intelligence.  She works for the dignified Admiral Eric Fontaine.  A man comes regularly to see Admiral Fontaine.  He is attractive and confident, and he flirts with Lydia and rearranges the stuff on her desk when she is not around (which annoys the orderly Lydia!).  His name is Alexander Banebridge, but he goes by “Bane.”

Bane hires Lydia for some independent translation projects.  She does not know what the point of these projects is, and she wonders if Bane is giving her busy work simply to get closer to her.  She goes along with the projects, however, because she needs the money so she can buy her apartment.  Plus, she is falling in love with Bane.  She believes that she can be herself around him.

It turns out that Bane has his own personal crusade against opium.  Bane recruits politicians who could be sympathetic to his cause.  He even recommends that the widowed Admiral Fontaine marry Lydia and run for office, since Lydia could get Fontaine the immigrant vote!  Bane also searches for suppliers of opium.  He has recruited Lydia to help him in this task.

The reason that Bane is crusading against opium is that, years earlier, he worked for a Professor who was the leader of an underground opium ring.  Due to the influence of some Christian women, Bane became a Christian and left the Professor’s service.  Bane feels guilty for his part in the opium ring, particularly when he considers the damage that opium has done to people, including children.  Bane loves Lydia, but he feels that he cannot get involved with a woman because the Professor will kidnap anyone who matters to Bane, just to get Bane working for him again.

The first third of the book was rather slow, and (paradoxically) I thought that Lydia was falling in love with Bane too quickly.  The book picked up, however, when Lydia lost her job after helping Bane on one of his shady (yet legal) projects.  Lydia struggled thereafter to find employment.  One of her friends and coworkers suggested that she work at the local bakery, and she did that, for a while.  But she encounters Bane again, and Bane recruits her for another project.  The Professor has kidnapped Admiral Fontaine’s son Jack.  Lydia is to work for the Professor to translate an ancient Greek text, as part of a plan to free Jack.

Lydia’s time with the Professor had lots of suspense.  Because the professor was in a hurry for Lydia to translate that Greek text, Lydia did not have time to return to her apartment and get the transliteration manual that would enable her to translate it.  On account of that, Lydia had to stall and come up with excuses, and the Professor was getting impatient!  Would Lydia blow her cover?  I was worried for Lydia!

Lydia was also dealing with withdrawal.  You see, that Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup that she has taken for years contains opium.  Lydia had to learn to find her security amidst stressful times from spirituality, not by falling back on Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.

In a sense, Lydia was already a spiritual seeker.  She talked to the moon at night because that made her feel closer to her father.  She was hoping that somebody out there was listening.  That would serve as a foundation for her spiritual development.

The book was an enjoyable read.  I am not surprised that it won a Christy Award.  The romance was a little rushed, however, plus I was not entirely clear about the legal status of opium back then.  Some of the characters suggested that opium was legal, and yet it had to be smuggled.

Elizabeth Camden has written another book about Bane.  This book is entitled The Lady of Bolton Hill.  Bane in this book is still working for the Professor, but he leaves the Professor’s service.  I actually want to read it!

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