Thursday, August 19, 2021

Julie Klassen's A Castaway in Cornwall takes a romantic escape to Poldark country

A castaway, the dictionary tells us, is “a person who has been shipwrecked and stranded in an isolated place.”

Both the heroine and hero of Julie Klassen’s historical novel are castaways, literally or figuratively. With its picturesque backdrop of North Cornwall’s rocky shores during the Napoleonic Wars, it’s tailor-made to draw in Poldark fans, though the love story is more of a gentle, slow burn than one of smoldering passion.

In 1813, Laura Callaway, a young woman of 23, is a lost soul of sorts. Orphaned as a teenager, she had moved to Cornwall eight years earlier to live with her late aunt’s husband, Matthew Bray. Unfortunately, Matthew’s new wife has never truly accepted Laura as part of the family. As a pastime, Laura wanders along the shoreline, collects objects washed up on the sand after shipwrecks, and tries to identify their rightful owners. After the Kittiwake runs aground off the coast one evening, she guards the life of the survivor of the wreck. He calls himself Alexander Lucas and claims to be from Jersey – but he speaks English with a slight accent, and signs point to something hidden in his background. With Britain at war with France, what could his secret possibly be? And Alex may not, in fact, be the only passenger who survived…

Both Alex and Laura are wholeheartedly good people, and their falling in love, despite the obstacles thrown in their path, is a foregone conclusion. Laura’s principal flaw is that she lets her pride get in the way of getting to know her neighbors. Her discoveries over the course of the book eventually set her to rights and give her a sense of belonging.

A Castaway in Cornwall is a story where the setting is a character in its own right, and it’s the most intriguing and multifaceted one of all. The author establishes a sense of community through her large cast while blending Cornish history and customs credibly into the plot. We learn, for example, about St. Enodoc in Trebetherick, a quaint old church partly buried underneath the dunes, and how its minister (Laura's Uncle Matthew) is lowered via rope through a hatch in the roof in order to conduct services there once a year. There are more authentic Cornish names than you can shake a stick at, and the shipboard action scenes are first-rate; I wouldn’t have minded more of them.

Though marketed as Christian fiction, the biblical content is very light overall. It’s an enjoyable story, though there is one scene toward the end that adheres to genre conventions but made me uneasy, given everything that happened beforehand.

A Castaway in Cornwall was published by Bethany House in December 2020; I read it from a NetGalley copy.


  1. The setting alone would draw me in, never mind the characters and story. Thank you so much for this review.

    1. The setting is beautiful. I'd love to visit in person one day.