This is the second series by writer Roseanna M. White that I have started. I thought about waiting until I had read all three to review them, but I just couldn’t wait to share my love for this book! The name of the series is called Shadows Over England, and just like the previous series I read by her (Ladies of the Manor), they are set in Edwardian England. These are late in the Edwardian period, with World War I starting with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in this first book.
In A Name Unknown, tensions are high all over Europe with alliances forming that will inevitably lead to what we know as WWI. In England specifically, there is widespread distrust and even hatred for anyone of German lineage, including the novel’s unlikely hero, Peter Holstein. Peter is a wealthy landowner, and handsome to boot, so why do I call him an unlikely hero? Because I have never read a romantic hero who stuttered. The dialogue is written to convey his stuttering problem, and I will be completely transparent, at first it was off-putting. This made me glaringly aware of my own prejudices. Like the people of Peter’s community, I had a difficult time in the beginning imagining him as charming or intelligent or attractive simply because of his stuttering. Peter isolates himself from all but his closest friends, causing his neighbors to distrust him even more.
The key to proving his allegiance to Britain is contained somewhere in the disaster of his family library. Enter Rosemary Gresham, who Peter thinks is a librarian seeking employment in organizing his library and helping him find important family documents. In actuality, Rosemary is a con artist, hired by a mysterious man to find evidence that Peter is a traitor. Rosemary is used to people making assumptions about her. A former street urchin with a found family of fellow thieves and cons, she’s used to being underestimated and having to lie, cheat, and scrape to survive. Her distrust of Peter has nothing to do with his stuttering and everything to do with his wealth. Gentlemen can’t be trusted, yet Peter seems different. The only question is, what does he type all day long in his office? What does he keep locked in that desk drawer? Everything in her says Peter Holstein is a good man, but can she learn to trust when all her life experience has told her not to?
As Rosemary slowly falls in love with Peter, the reader falls in love with him too, and like Rosemary, we stop thinking about his stuttering. I also could relate to Peter in so many ways. Like Peter, I’m an introvert, and like Peter, I’m better at expressing my feelings and thoughts when I write them down. I also tend to get lost in the fantasy world in my head like Peter. (The reason he does that is a spoiler, but you might be able to guess!)
It also made me think about what my husband went through as a child when he suffered from a stuttering problem. He, of course, had access to speech therapy that wasn’t available or understood in Edwardian times. It made me wonder how things would have been different for him if he still stuttered as an adult. My daughter has also struggled with speech issues, so this book really gave me greater empathy for both she and my husband. Some adults do, even today, have speech problems for various reasons, and this book made me more aware of my prejudices towards them.
The final thing I want to praise this book for is a scene in which a character accepts Jesus Christ as savior. I have mentioned in the past that I hate when a book comes to a screeching halt to do a scene like this. It can feel forced like a “we interrupt this story for a very important message” type of thing. That is NOT how White writes this scene, however! It felt so natural and flowed with the rest of the story. Some of my favorite lines in the entire book come from this scene. I cried as the character came to understand the grace of Jesus.
Some of my other favorite lines came from the many times Rosemary defends Peter. She despises anyone who judges him because of his stuttering. I love when characters rise to the defense of the person they love, especially when, like Rosemary, they are in denial about their feelings. I also love this line that Rosemary says: “I’ve scarcely noticed if he’s handsome or not.” Which was true. Perhaps he was—certainly he was, if one thought about it—but why would one? It highlights what makes Rosemary truly love Peter: his character. His looks are secondary.
The next two books in the series focus on other members of Rosemary’s “family” of con artists, both of whom are introduced in this first book. Has the war affected their “profession?” I refuse to give that one away!
I highly recommend this book filled with complex characters, intrigue, and plot twists. I’m looking forward to what’s to come in books two and three!
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.