"I enjoyed the balance between the romance and the grim reality of seeing the [US] Civil War through an army hospital."
Tess is a crack shot, far better in skill than her father or brothers. Living in Virginia before the onset of the Civil War, her skills help to provide for her family. During one hunting session, Tess finds herself farther away from her home range and ends up saving a stranger from a panther attack. Before the man loses consciousness, he calls her Diana after the Greek goddess of the hunt. The encounter changes both their lives, even though at that moment, they don’t realize it.
Tess has other pressing worries. Her father, a lazy man, who drove his wife to her grave, is determined to marry off his only daughter to a local merchant for his own comfort. The merchant has a poor reputation in their small community, and he makes Tess’s skin crawl. Knowing if she didn’t take matters in hand she’d end up like her mother, Tess manages to escape.
Once more her path crosses with that of the stranger she had saved, but this time Tess has disguised herself as a young man named Thomas to pass unnoticed. Ryder Cole is a physician on his way to Washington to serve in the Union as an army surgeon and Tess agrees to join him as his assistant.
Over the course of the Civil War, Tess develops her skill as a surgeon’s assistant while being careful to preserve her identity as the resourceful Thomas. Through war and hardship, her feelings for Ryder deepens to love, but do they have any future when she can’t ever let him know who she really is, especially when their main concern is surviving the bloody civil war?
I had read about women who had dressed as men to enlist and serve their country while managing to keep their secret for years. This is what intrigued me about this story. I also enjoyed the balance between the romance and the grim reality of seeing the civil war through an army hospital. Tess and Ryder’s relationship developed out of friendship and a shared purpose while Tess was in her Thomas personae, and more intimately when she came to him as a mysterious woman. Both characters are well-drawn, and I especially loved Tess’s grit.
Having said that, there were a couple of niggles. I felt that the way Tess manages to keep her identity a secret from Ryder during those times when she appears to him as his mistress felt like a stretch. Also, there were one or two military actions which directly involved the characters that we were told about after the event. I would have preferred to have had these scenes on the page.
Aside from these minor quibbles, Seven Aprils is an enjoyable read with good characterization and authentic period details that make the reader feel they have stepped back into the Civil War era. Recommended for readers who enjoy a romantic story set in a rich but challenging historical setting.
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