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The Halifax Connection

by Marie Jakober

Erryn Shaw is an English aristocrat who has fled to Halifax to avoid a dark past. Sylvie Bowen is a working-class girl who has escaped the deadly environment of Lancashire’s cotton mills. Inevitably, they meet, fall in love, are torn apart by secrecy and misunderstandings, find each other again, and live happily ever after.

The romance part of this historical romance by Albertan Marie Jakober is predictable, and once it really gets going, about a third of the way through the novel, the prose occasionally approaches the purple (“the heat from his body leaping through her wet clothing as fire through grass,” etc.).

What is much more interesting is the setting – Canada in the early 1860s. Confederation is looming, and the American Civil War is raging across the border. Spies and provocateurs of all kinds are desperately trying to involve Canada and, consequently, Britain. It’s not well known how close Canada came to fighting in the war, and Jakober does a splendid job of capturing the swirling uncertainty of the times and explaining the complex motivations of a host of characters, both historical and fictitious.

The historical side of the book is well written and entertaining, although background information sometimes slows down story development. The various characters are well drawn, although Sylvie sometimes seems a bit too intellectual for a downtrodden mill girl. The characters’ accents help ground the story in its time and setting, but the potentially rich interactions of a Lancashire working-class girl, English aristocrat, and southern gentlemen are not fully exploited.

The Halifax Connection is a long, rambling tale. There is a lot of history to be got through, but the dramatic moments, such as a knifing aboard a ship and an attack in a dark alley, stand out. This will probably be enough for those with an interest in this fascinating and little-known page from Canadian history.