Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Book Description:
In this resplendent love story a dazzling era comes vividly to life as one woman's passionate struggle to follow her heart takes her from the opulent cotillions of Edinburgh to the London court of half-mad King George III . . . from a famed salon teeming with politicians and poets to a picturesque castle on the secluded, lush Island of the Swans. . . .

Best friends in childhood, Jane Maxwell and Thomas Fraser wreaked havoc on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh with their juvenile pranks. But years later, when Jane blossoms into a beautiful woman, her feelings for Thomas push beyond the borders of friendship, and he becomes the only man she wants. When Thomas is reportedly killed in the American colonies, the handsome, charismatic Alexander, Duke of Gordon, appeals to a devastated Jane. Believing Thomas is gone forever, Jane hesitantly responds to the Duke, whose passion ignites her blood, even as she rebels at his fierce desire to claim her.

But Thomas Fraser is not dead, and when he returns to find his beloved Jane betrothed to another, he refuses to accept the heartbreaking turn of events. Soon Jane's marriage is swept into a turbulent dance of tender wooing and clashing wills--as Alex seeks truly to make her his, and his alone. . . .

This is a great book!  I loved it.  The setting, the time period, the heart rending, poignant storyline which was based on the love triangle between Jane Maxwell, the Fourth Duchess of Gordon, her husband, Alexander, and Jane's first and forever love, Thomas Fraser.  Did I mention the fabulous writing style of Ciji Ware?  It was seamless, the words flew of the pages, I was captivated from page one.  She brought these real historical figures to life in my mind.  In fact after I finished it, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what really happened to them after the book ends.  I wish I had known the real Lady Jane.  And I loved the fictional Thomas Fraser.  What's with these eighteenth century Scottish highlander red-headed Frasers in my literary life?

Set in eighteenth century Scotland, it is the life of Lady Jane Maxwell who becomes the 4th Duchess of Gordon.  Jane's life is one of ups and downs, marred by the fact that her true love, Thomas Fraser, thought to be dead fighting in the American Colonies, is in fact not dead.  Unfortunately, it is too late for them, for she only learns of the fact while on her honeymoon to the Duke, her husband, Alexander.  While trying to be true and faithful to her husband for the next 20 years, she cannot forget or resist her love for Thomas when he returns to Scotland from time to time.  For thirty years a love triangle exists.  I adored this book!  A sprawling, romantic history that held my attention through every word.  From the narrow closes of Edinburgh to the farmlands of colonial Maryland and back to the beautiful countryside of the Scottish Highlands, I was enthralled!  A real keeper.

I loved the settings and time period, Georgian 1760's-1790's.  Edinbugh, London, Gordon Castle, known as Fochabers and Jane's Kinrara, next to the island of the swans.  I want to go there someday - I will go there someday and look at her home and the nearby island with a crumbling castle where she and Thomas Fraser have their idyllic stolen days of sunshine and love.

Jane is a charismatic heroine, you're always pulling for her, no matter what happens. I went through such a roller coaster of feelings in regard to her marriage with Alexander.  At one point, I wanted them to work it out, to be happy, soul mates.  But then Thomas would return and Alexander would do something awful out of jealousy and I'd flip flop and love Thomas again!  I was torn for her.  I wanted her to be true to her lawfully wedded husband, yet I could understand her feelings and the irresistible pull that Thomas has on her emotions every time they saw each other again.  Oh, poor Jane to live in a marriage for twenty years, loving two men, yet having to bear the burden of that. 

There are so many "what ifs" in her life that kept Jane and Thomas apart for so long.  She and Alexander have a tempestuous relationship full of infidelities, accusations, hurt feelings and miscommunication, yet at times I often really felt sorry for Alexander.  Then, I felt sorry for Thomas too - and Jane!  I was so involved with these characters!  Interspersed through her days with Alexander are the few times when she and Thomas are reunited and they finally do get their moment in the sun.  (highlight to read spoiler)They produce a daughter who Jane must raise as her husband's, even though she's the spitting image of Thomas, red hair and all.  It's obvious to Alexander who's child she is.  Jane must live with this burden, but I really loved what happens to little Louisa eventually, her wedding is one of my favorite parts in the book. 

Jane has many children over the years and marries them off quite successfully to boot!  She is strong and is a survivor in this book, even though it ends a bit up in the air, you do get the impression it ends happily for her if not happily ever after.

If you enjoy historical fiction with a strong romantic thread - read this.  I'm definitely reading it again someday!  It's become a favorite!  I'm so glad Sourcebooks re-issued it last year!

A word of advice: if you want to find out what happens to the real Lady Jane Maxwell, wait until after you finish the book, otherwise you'll be sorry.


P.S.  For those of you curious about what happens to Ware's fictional character of Thomas Fraser after Island of the Swans, she includes him in the end of her other book A Cottage by the Sea.  I won't tell you what happens, but I can't say I was overly happy about it.  A Cottage by the Sea is not a sequel, btw, but she did overlap them slightly.


Joanne said...

I just skimmed your review because I have this book for the HF challenge and don't want to know too much -- glad it was a good one, though. 5 stars - I will move it up to the top! :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne, I can't wait to see what you think of it! I simply loved it - and I was reading it most of the time while working out! I never get so into a book while on the elliptical, but this time, my work out flew by!

Misfit said...

I enjoyed this a lot, although I seem to recall thinking it could have used some editing towards the end. I will read it again and looking forward to her new book set in old San Francisco (a favorite setting of mine).

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Checking into this one! Great review.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

awesome review!!! i have been curious about this author!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Misfit, this is the first I've read by this author, of course, the thing that drove me to read this book was the setting and place, but I will check out her other books as well. I believe she lives in the San Francisco area, but not sure.

Julia - I loved every bit of this book, do try it, it was so worthwhile!

Carrie - I don't know about her other books, but this one was a sure winner!

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