Unclaimed Heart by Kim Wilkins
Kim Wilkins’ Unclaimed Heart is a YA historical romance with an unusual setting and the kind of emotional conflict I usually love in historical fiction: a young woman constrained by the expectations of society and seeking more from life than her father/family, and society, are willing to give her. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy Unclaimed Heart as much as I hoped to, largely because Wilkins did not convince me of Constance and Alexandre’s love for each other to the extent that the storyline demands. (I realize that this is basically the same thing I said about Nancy Werlin’s Impossible, and I don’t think I’m the best judge of Unclaimed Heart because it was reminiscent in many ways to one of my favorite romance novels ever, Candice Proctor’s Whispers of Heaven. So, something to keep in mind if you think Unclaimed Heart sounds intriguing.)
Constance Blackchurch has long been curious about her mother, who has been missing for the last sixteen years. Overhearing a conversation between her father and her aunt, Constance learns of rumors that her mother may be living in Ceylon. And so Constance decides to stow away on her father’s ship, hoping for a reunion with her mother.
Alexandre Sans-Nom is a pearl diver, bought by Gilbert De Locke as a child, searching for a way to escape his servitude. Constance knows she should avoid Alexandre, but she is drawn to him despite their class difference, and when they fall in love, what chance do they have of remaining together?
Unclaimed Heart features several subplots besides the romance, namely the disappearance of Constance’s mother and the conflicts between De Locke and Constance’s father, and De Locke and Alexandre. But these things didn’t capture my attention. We’re told so much about all the characters and their backstories so early on that it lessened the tension. It made things less suspenseful, even a bit anticlimactic, because there was little mystery to the main characters. Wilkins tells us so much about the characters’ motivations and their histories almost from the first time they are introduced, and the foreshadowing is sometimes so heavyhanded, that the conflicts later in the story came as no surprise.
The focal point of the novel was then the romantic relationship between Constance and Alexandre, and however sympathetic readers might find their plights, their relationship just wasn’t compelling enough to carry the story on its own. Did I want them to get their HEA? Well, I suppose so. I read the novel straight through in one sitting. And I certainly wasn’t upset by their implied HEA, not saying, “No, no, you need to find someone else,” to Constance, or Alexandre, as I read. Wilkins made me believe in Constance and Alexandre’s attraction to each other, but not necessarily in their love. This might be enough for some readers, but it wasn’t enough to make Unclaimed Heart completely satisfying for me.
Unclaimed Heart will be published on July 9. It has also been reviewed by The Compulsive Reader.