Friday, 18 June 2010

The Bell Tower of Wyndspelle by Aola Vandergriff

GENRE: Gothic mystery/romance

The year is 1770. America begins the war for its independence. Caryn Allison and her family are Tories, for which their home is burned to the ground. Caryn stays alone with her mother, who loses her touch with reality. On top of everything, Caryn is attacked by an angry mob for having survived the fire, but she is saved from their cruelty by Joseph Delgado, a wealthy Portuguese fisherman and sea captain, who offers her marriage. Caryn does not love her Whig husband, but he offers her safety and she takes it. They go to his new home, Wyndspelle, where Caryn feels haunted and develops a great dislike for Joseph and his family. When two English officers come stay at the house, Caryn must choose a side – the King of England or the Master of Wyndspelle? Is her first duty to the King and the British soldiers quartered in her home? Or to her husband, whose revolutionary band plots against England? Her husband saved her life and married her despite her loyalist sympathies. Could she betray him now? Caryn must choose. Upon her words hang many men's lives.

This is the sequel to Wyndspelle, which makes The Bell Tower of Wyndspelle the second novel in the Wyndspelle trilogy. Again, I loved the story. It is a great historical Gothic mystery/romance and if you are not familiar with Aola Vandergriff and if you are a lover of Gothic novels, then do read the Wyndspelle trilogy.

The story begins with a tragedy. The Allison family is the only Tory family in Wychboro, the village north of Boston. Wychboro grew into a substantial settlement over the course of fifty years and it is the village that was initially founded by Reverend Potts from the first novel as a Puritan community. But something hasn’t changed – people are still prejudiced. And so, the villagers burn down the Allison house, leaving Caryn and her mother all alone, as the father of the family died in the fire. Caryn is desperate and her mother seems to have lost all touch with reality, so Caryn must take matters into her hands. She goes to Wychboro to sell the silverware that survived the fire and is nearly stoned to death by the angry mob. She is saved by Joseph Delgado, a wealthy sea captain from the nearby Portuguese village. Although Caryn hates him for being a Whig, she marries him, as he saved her and can offer protection to her and her mother.

The interesting thing about Caryn is that she herself is a very prejudiced character. She hates all Whigs. On the one hand, this is understandable, as a group of Whigs destroyed her life, but she does not even try to understand anyone, whereas she demands to be understood and respected as a Tory. Also, she was born and bred in Wychboro, America. In the beginning of the novel, she was angry with her parents because they wanted to return to England. Caryn never saw England as her home; America was her only home. However, she remains blindly loyal to her father’s ideals, although she may not believe in them, because his ideals are all she has left from her previous life of normality and happiness.

When Caryn learns that Joseph bought Wyndspelle to please his bride with a big house, she is horrified. As a native of Wychboro, she knows stories about the haunted house and about the Wyndspelle witch. When she meets Joseph’s family, she treats them like servants. She even mistakes Joseph’s grandfather Vincente (from the first novel) for a servant, which is a big insult to the Delgado family. From the start, she treats her husband formally and keeps away from his family members.

When Joseph is away for a while, she accepts two English soldiers into the house. She even becomes the two soldiers’ informant. The soldiers believe that the Delgado brothers work for the rebellious colonists by smuggling weapons for them and when Caryn learns of this, she immediately decides to betray the Delgados. When her husband comes home to find his wife in the company of English officers, things change. He used to be really patient with and sweet towards Caryn because he loved her and understood her, but then, he gets really angry and creates a barrier between them.

Once, Vincente tells her a little bit about the history of the house. He tells her that she reminds him of a lady who betrayed the previous master of Wyndspelle. This lady is Lady Jane from the first novel and that haunts Caryn, although she pretends not to care about it. After this, she begins to feel the house, its pressure, its shadows, its ghosts and Caryn feels haunted and very isolated from everything. At times she sees Jane in herself, and at times she sees a young woman with raven hair blessing her and warning her. (This is an allusion to the protagonist of the first novel, Adria.) Soon, Caryn becomes tormented by doubt. Does she really want to betray her husband or not?

Her stubbornness and then indecision lead to a new tragedy and chaos. She is responsible for many things that happen in the house and to its inhabitants, and the burden of guilt is hard to bear. Her mistakes and hatred make Caryn a really interesting heroine. She is not a typical sweet, good-natured lady, but a survivor of a tragedy that filled her heart with hatred and prejudice. She is very blind and makes many mistakes. She learns her lesson only when it is too late, but she receives her atonement and a chance for a happy life. I really enjoyed the characters and I have to say that I even developed a bit of a crush on Joseph Delgado. He, too, is not a typical character of a Gothic romance. He is cheerful, sensitive, considerate and patient. He loses his temper when he realizes he has been made to look like a fool. Both Caryn and Joseph impressed me as characters and delivered the story well. The side characters were great and interesting, too. Especially Vincente himself is an element of mystery in the house.

I loved the ghost theme, so to say. It is a big theme of the novel, as is the case with the first book in the trilogy. Haunting references are made to the past and the house is presented as a living, malignant creature. The house gives the appearance of someone breathing. The female protagonist is, again, likened to a witch, as one character tells Caryn that the Wyndspelle witch already possessed a girl in the past and she will do so again. This really gives off the vibes of a ghost story and really makes the book a page-turner. The story itself is great, interesting and suspenseful, but I think that the house, Wyndspelle, is at the heart of the book and makes the trilogy so fascinating. This house has a personality and is a character of its own.

The only thing that bothered me was the fast conclusion. Two more chapters could have been added, as the final events seemed a bit rushed, but apart from this, the novel was a fantastic read.

The final novel in the series is entitled Wyndspelle’s Child.


1 comment:

Julie P said...

Great review--but I am probably going to pass on this one. Not really my genre....