In 1839, Emily Lowry’s husband is the caretaker of the lighthouse on Wreckers' Cay, a remote neighbor isle in southwestern Florida. When Martin fails to return from a boating trip, she and her three (soon to be four) children are left to fend for themselves. A light-skinned black man who appears on their island months later, after escaping a Caribbean-bound slave ship, turns out to be the answer to their prayers: Andrew is polite, strong, and handy with tools. He's not bad looking, either.
With her pregnancy far advanced, Emily shows Andrew how to tend the light that alerts ships away from the shallow waters and coral reefs. Far from the rigid society of her New Orleans birthplace, Emily lets her guard down and allows herself to fall in love with this charismatic man while hiding him from occasional visitors and persistent would-be suitors.
Keeping to antebellum-era realities, Brady knows their peaceful idyll can’t last and throws many obstacles their way, even more than the ones you’d expect. Some of the plot turns are fanciful, and I found myself wanting to reach back 170 years to remind idealistic Emily to be more cautious. Her openness and spunk give her an appealing personality, though, and she deserves some happiness in her life. Her narrative also reveals the full history of her marriage to Martin, which isn’t the great love match she hoped for.
Her entertaining story is filled with mystery (What really happened to Martin? Will Andrew be discovered? How did he make it off the ship while still in shackles?) as well as romance, episodes of tragedy, and bursts of clever humor. Emily's children play active roles, too. The historical details are sufficient without being overwhelming, and the novel provides an enjoyable glimpse of the 19th-century Florida Keys, with its bustling mélange of American, Bahamian, and Cuban influences. Emily sails to and tours around Cuba – how times have changed! – and its importance to Spanish industry is highlighted.
Keeping a lighthouse in top shape was a strenuous, important task, and in explaining all the work involved – climbing the many stairs, trimming the wick daily, polishing the glass, and more – Brady also honors the real-life female lightkeepers on whom Emily is modeled.
The Woman at the Light will be published by St. Martin's Press on July 3rd at $14.99/$16.99 CAN in trade paperback (322pp). I snagged this one from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program after reading the description and the many glowing Amazon reviews of the previous self-published edition.