Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Write-Up: To the Farthest Shores, by Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden.  To the Farthest Shores.  Bethany House Publishers, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

To the Farthest Shores is set in the early nineteenth century.  Jenny Bennett is a nurse at a Presidio army base, and she falls in love with naval officer Ryan Gallagher.  Ryan leaves and sends her a terse break-up note.  Six years later, Ryan returns with a Japanese child, a girl named Lily.

Unbeknownst to Jenny, Ryan is a spy.  The U.S. Government values his knowledge of Japanese language and culture, for Ryan’s parents were Christian missionaries to Japan, so he was raised in that country.  After departing from Jenny, Ryan seeks comfort in Japan in the arms of Akira, a Japanese friend going back to his childhood.  Ryan and Akira are the parents of Lily, and Akira dies.

Another character in the book is Finn, another spy.  Finn has had a long fascination with Japan, and he is adept at recognizing the geo-political significance of seemingly random details.  The problem is that he is an Opium addict.  Ryan wants Jenny to help nurse Finn to sobriety so that Finn can take over a mission.  They go to Ryan’s house at the seaside to do this, and Finn is not exactly the most pleasant patient in the world!

There are other characters of note.  Simon raised Jenny, after rescuing her from the streets when she was a child.  Simon has a good nature, but he has an obsession with pearls, and he tends to squander whatever money Jenny gives him on that.  By the sea, there is Chester and his daughter, Abigail.  Chester got tired of being an attorney and became a crab-hunter instead.  Abigail has her eye on Ryan and wants to be his savior, after reading too many romance novels!

The book largely focuses on the emotions of Jenny and Ryan.  Jenny, of course, is upset that Ryan left her years earlier.  She wants Ryan’s love, and she wonders if Ryan loved Akira.  Jenny is also dealing with guilt, which involves a sailor who had a scar on his face.  Ryan loves Jenny, but he feels that he cannot be completely honest with her about why he did what he did, since his status as a spy is supposed to be a secret.  Even apart from that, however, he is a rather secretive, reserved person.  Some of this goes back to his upbringing in Japan, when he was bullied and learned to stuff whatever emotions he had.

There is some intrigue.  It seems that someone is trying to kill Ryan.  Who?

Just to give my impressions, the book struck me as different from the description of it on the Amazon page.  The Amazon page dramatically focuses on Ryan not wanting to jeopardize his mission, but the book did not talk much about his mission.  The page also states that Jenny helps Ryan out of loyalty to her country, but I don’t recall that theme looming large in the book.

As far as the intrigue goes, the resolution to the mystery of who wanted to kill Ryan was underwhelming and hastily resolved.  On the mystery of why Jenny feels guilty, Elizabeth Camden should have explained more clearly what exactly Jenny’s superiors were doing, and why.

This book did not have as much of a religious-spiritual element as other Elizabeth Camden novels that I have read.  Simon is a devout Christian, but he does not really expound on religion.  Forgiveness is a major theme in this book, but, with some exceptions, that is not discussed within a religious context.

I wish that, in the appendix, Camden had examined the historical plausibility of a woman becoming a lawyer in the early nineteenth century, since that is a prominent detail at the end of the book.

The book still deserves five stars, though.  Camden is vivid in presenting the backgrounds, emotions, and temperaments of the characters, such that they become virtually palpable.  Speaking for myself personally, I liked most of the characters, but I had some difficulty liking Jenny.  She just struck me as rather self-centered.  I will also add that I liked Ryan better than other male protagonists in the Elizabeth Camden novels that I have read: he was not bitter or flirtatious, but was modest and diffident.

An interesting scene in the book is when Lily says in Japanese that Jenny looks like her mother, Akira.  That scene says a lot about Ryan, in my opinion!  But you can read the book and draw your own conclusions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.  My review is honest!

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