Joanna Shupe returns to her Four Hundred series with a sweet, heartwarming historical romance between a reclusive inventor and a shy Englishwoman. Both struggle to fit into society, but manage to find comfort and acceptance with each other.
The hits for Christina Barclay just keep coming. After her family flees England for New York to escape debtors, she quickly realizes her parents aim to pawn her off on the richest man willing to take her. The only way she copes with her family stress and anxiety for social gatherings is taking walks in her neighbor’s garden. It’s rumored that he’s a recluse and Christina doubts he’ll even notice her.
Oliver Hawkes is perfectly fine with his self-imposed exile. He doesn’t like dealing with new people, and has surrounded himself with a close group of servants and friends. Having lost his hearing as a young teen, Oliver has wrestled with the notion that he’ll never be fully welcomed by New York’s elite. But after meeting Christina, he slowly comes to realize there’s something magical in finding a friend.
After Christina returns from a harrowing experience with the man her parents have chosen for her to marry, Oliver knows he has to help her. And when her mother and father catch Christina seeking refuge at Oliver’s home, they insist she’s been comprised. Oliver knows the easiest way to help Christina and keep her from the scheming clutches of her parents is to marry her. They’ll dissolve the marriage in a year and he’ll send her on her way with a large sum of money, freeing her to move wherever she wants and pursue her dreams.
Both Christina and Oliver are, initially, lonely individuals. Christina has never felt as if she belonged, even while out with her cousin and friends. Meanwhile, Oliver insists he needs no one and that he can manage just fine on his own. They end up becoming fast friends because they’ve found a common ground in their introversion. There’s an adorable scene where Christina doesn’t feel like coming down for dinner, so instead, Oliver has dinner set up in their rooms to keep Christina from having to leave the comfort of her own space.
Shupe fascinatingly explores Oliver’s life as a deaf man, showing what sorts of accessibilities and technology were available in the late-nineteenth century. But his disability also comes with various prejudices, even given his wealth and standing in society. The threat of being thrown into an asylum is a very real concern. Though Christina is a homebody, Oliver begins to worry that not being seen in public will cause people to think that he’s mad, creating a looming, terrifying danger that hangs over the growing affection between husband and wife. Oliver and Christina’s love story is very much a slow burn, enhanced by the care and understanding they have for one another. Filled with lovely, sigh-inducing scenes and tense moments of longing and vulnerability, A Notorious Vow is a romance you’ll remember for a lifetime.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Joanna Shupe.