A long overdue review today, and a book I was rather looking forward to – The Promise by Ruth Saberton was published in July 2019, and is available as an e-book (and via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. I’d like to thank Ruth and Christian for my reading e-copy, and particularly for their patience and good humour while awaiting my review.
I know I’ve mentioned before that one of my most-read posts was one Ruth wrote about the poignant story behind The Letter, back in February 2018 – you can read it again here. And when I finally got round to reading the book (yes, I’m often rather late to the party!), I was so delighted that the book was everything I hoped it would be, and featured among my books of the year for 2018: you can read my review again here. Ruth’s output is particularly prolific, and I have no doubt I might enjoy many of her other books if I was only able to find space for them on my reading list – but The Promise looked like a particularly good “fit” for me, and I was really looking forward to seeing if it had the same magic as the earlier book.
A wartime secret has lain buried for over seventy years – but it can’t stay concealed for ever…
When Nell Summers discovers a handful of photographs hidden among her late father’s belongings, the faded image of a handsome soldier leads her to question everything she knows.
Half truths and shifting secrets reveal clues and Nell is drawn to Cornwall in search of answers. A secluded house, neglected garden and crumbling Second World War defences offer some explanations but does anyone remain who might remember the truth? What became of a forgotten childhood friendship? And whose long ago promise was broken with such devastating consequences?
With the last person who holds the key to the mystery wandering in a maze of fading memories, the race against time is on. But as she explores her family history, Nell must also confront the shadows of her own past and old secrets deeper and darker than she could ever imagine …
This haunting and beautiful novel is set in Cornwall and reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier and Rosamunde Pilcher. Romantic and moving, it is a tale of loss and love, the devastation of war and the brave generation who sacrificed everything to fight for freedom.
This really is an enthralling story, and so beautifully told. In the present day, Nell, struggling with grief and loss following the death of her father and feeling set adrift, finds some photographs among his possessions and follows the clues to the Cornish coast where she hopes to find out more about her family history. The other key character is Estella, living alone in her dilapidated mansion set in its overgrown garden, struggling with age and infirmity, feeling the onset of confusion and dementia (particularly sympathetically and well portrayed): but she has a rich seam of memories – retold to Nell – beginning with a deep childhood friendship, then moving into wartime where she finds a deep and forbidden love.
I’d never before considered the impact of the “friendly invasion” of US troops on such a community, and the author’s obvious depth of research brings a vivid authenticity to their experience – the fenced off beaches, the billeting of the officers, the sprawling camp, the bursts of frightening and frenetic activity. And then there’s also the reality of life for the troops themselves – and the enduring prejudice and alienation when your skin happens to be a different colour.
This is one of those wonderful sweeping books that consumes you – gently told, with some exceptionally vivid descriptions bringing the setting to life in the past and present. I particularly liked the touches of Cornish magic and mysticism, the nods to myth and legend, the significance of ley lines, the glimpses through the veil, the labyrinth and sundial, the closed-off well, the echoes of sadness. The romance – past and present – is well-done too, real and convincing, with a deftness in the handling of the emotional content. And it’s a really powerful story, with a very satisfying and uplifting ending – filled with love, hope, and ending with the real possibility of moving on.
At close to 400 pages, I will admit it took me quite a while to read, and I perhaps found my attention drifting a little at times: while the descriptions are stunning, I did feel they sometimes affected the pace and momentum of the story a little. But the whole was so enjoyable, such an engaging story with its unexpected twists and turns, that I can totally forgive that – and perhaps put it down to reading in fits and starts when unable to sit down with it for a more focused read. Yes, I’d really recommend this one – a slice of hidden history I found simply fascinating, an absorbing story so well told, and a book I very much enjoyed.
If you enjoyed The Letter or The Promise – or if you’d prefer a shorter read – you might also like to try The Last Card, published in December 2019, available for kindle. It has links with The Promise, but can be read as a standalone – and it might just be a good introduction to Ruth’s lovely writing.
About the author
Ruth Saberton lives in Cornwall, close to the River Fowey, where she is constantly inspired by the surrounding seascape and countryside.
Ruth has been published by Orion, Pan Macmillan and Harper Collins, as well as writing under various pseudonyms with Working Partners and Little Black Dress. She has been a runner up in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s prestigious RONAs. Her debut novel was championed by TV’s Richard and Judy. Ruth’s novels have been regularly featured in the national and regional press. Ruth has written a regular column for the Western Morning News, featured on BBC Radio Cornwall, and spoken at writing and arts festivals. She is regularly featured in Amazon promotions and publicity.
Her books are stocked in a multitude of West Country outlets, from The Duchy Nursery to independent book shops, as well as more widely.