The family saga of Heiress continues in the sequel, Baroness. It is 1923 and the daughters of sisters Esme and Jinx Price are in Paris. It’s the Jazz Age and Rosie, the resentful, spoiled daughter of Jinx and her late husband, Foster, wants to experience all that Paris has to offer. Her cousin, Lilly, daughter of Esme and her late first husband, Daughtry Hoyt, is charged with keeping Rosie in line, but her naivete proves she is not quite up to the task. Jinx has married Bennett, Foster’s brother, and the two of them have spent the past six years searching for Jack, Rosie’s older brother who never returned from World War I. Back in New York, Esme has married her first love, Oliver, and together they are publishing The Chronicle.
Both girls manage to find love — or what they believe to be love — in the wrong places. Oliver surprises Lilly and before long, the whole family returns to New York. But Lilly wants no part of the newspaper business and she is as restless and headstrong as her mother before her. She strikes out on her own, eventually finding herself stranded in Mobridge, South Dakota, where she convinces a traveling airshow troup to take her with them as they head West so that Lilly can make her way back to the beloved ranch in Montana where she grew up.
Rosie is even more rebellious and determined to shun all aspects of her family’s way of life. She strikes out on her own in New York City. When her exasperated mother and stepfather find her at The Cotton Club with a group of flappers on the arm of the notorious Cesar Napoli, they try to warn her that he is the son of a mob boss and no good can come from her association with him. She refuses to listen, believing Cesar when he tells her that he will make her the star of the nightly show at his own club. When Cesar proves to be a violent, two-timing thug, just as Rosie was warned, a handsome professional baseball player, Guthrie Storme, becomes her knight in shining armor. But Rosie has never known true love and doesn’t believe that she is worthy of it, so she shuns Guthrie in favor of more broken promises from Cesar until she is forced to accept that her life is in danger if she remains with Cesar.
As the girls’ choices and dreams lead them on remarkable journeys spanning the next four years, each must come to grips with the truth about what it means to love and be loved, and discover their own self-worth and capacity for resilience and forgiveness — even if is self-forgiveness that she most needs.
Susan May Warren’s second installment in her Daughters of Fortune series is a worthy follow-up to Heiress. The story is again focused upon two young women, this time the daughters of the two main characters in the first book: cousins Lilly and Rosie.
Lilly grew up without a father. Her mother, Esme, did not yet realize she was pregnant when her husband was tragically killed in a Montana mining accident. Esme remained in Montana and raised Lilly there, only returning to New York City to claim her role as the publisher of her family’s newspaper, The Chronicle, when Lilly was fourteen years old. But during the intervening six years, Lilly has never stopped missing and yearning for Montana, and is determined to return. She has also never accepted her mother’s marriage to her first love, Oliver, who has tried to become a father-figure to her. At every opportunity, Lilly reminds him, along with everyone else, that he is not her father, refusing to see that Oliver loves her as though she were his own daughter. Her adventures in Europe lead her to make reckless, dangerous choices, and she believes that is why Oliver suddenly appears and demands that she return to New York with him. Only after they arrive back in the United States does Oliver reveal the real reason he traveled to Europe to escort her home. An ensuing tragedy sends Lilly on the run in much the same way her mother ran from her family and their expectations of her so many years earlier. Lilly has no interest in writing or publishing a newspaper — she just wants to retreat to Montana, the one place she felt happy, secure, and loved. But when she is stranded in South Dakota, she joins an airshow, eventually becoming a wing-walker, and her destiny is again altered. She believes that happenstance led her to Truman Hawk, a daredevil pilot whose charms she cannot resist. She has no idea that Oliver has never lost track of her and will never stop caring about her welfare, no matter what foolish chances she takes.
“Whatever happens, honey, don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget the blessings God has bestowed upon you. Don’t forget your name and where you belong.”~ Esme Price Hoyt Stewart to her daughter, Lilly, in Baroness
Rosie grew up with an abusive father who terrorized her, her mother, and Jack. Jinx’s affair with her father’s brother, Bennett, was exposed and the family name disgraced. After her father’s death, Jinx married Bennett and they now have a six-year-old son that Rosie adores because he is the one innocent person whom she can love unconditionally. All of the other men in Rosie’s life have disappointed and abandoned her, and she is convinced that her uncle/stepfather cares only about his sons. She craves attention and excitement — she wants to live on the edge, taking as much as she can from life and the men she encounters because of her deep-seated sense of inferiority and worthlessness. Until she meets Guthrie Storme, a truly good man with the innate ability to see goodness in Rosie and convince her that she deserves all of the love he wants to give her. Can she accept his love and experience real happiness for the first time? She feels as though she is too happy and her bliss surely can’t last. Indeed, her past threatens the life she builds with Guthrie, but can tragedy be avoided?
Once again, Warren constructs a compelling, sprawling tale of two women in search of their destinies. As with all of her work, Baroness incorporates an interwoven message about faith and God’s enduring love, drawing parallels between the girls’ earthly fathers and an omnipotent, unfailing deity. Both Oliver and Bennett offer their stepdaughters unfettered support, unwavering devotion, and forgiveness that need not be asked for, but neither can appreciate or embrace those men until they experience loss, grief, and disappointment in their respective ways. Like their mothers, Lilly and Rose ponder whether God has blessed or abandoned them, but Warren avoids overt proselytizing, instead offering a subtle message of hope for redemption and the power of forgiveness and reconciliation founded upon love and nonjudgmental compassion.
While Heiress focused upon whether one can ever really go home again, Baroness targets the question of where, exactly, home is and whether it is even a destination at all, as opposed to being the place where we come to understand our own self-worth. Warren deftly keeps the action moving against fascinating historical backdrops and circumstances. Her female protagonists, Lilly and Rosie, are as complex and endearing as their mothers, their struggles empathetic. Baroness grabs reader attention at the outset, and features many surprises and unexpected plot twists, some heartbreaking. The ending suggests that there is yet more story to come and that is a very good thing because I highly recommend both Heiress and Baroness to readers who enjoy historic family sagas featuring strong female characters who work their way through adversity en route to enlightenment, empowerment, and a firm understanding of what ultimately brings meaning and fulfillment to their lives.