Dawn at Emberwilde (A Treasures of Surrey Novel) was written by Sarah E. Ladd and published by Thomas Nelson (2016). I have read four of Ladd’s books, and they are all excellent. The spiritual message in this book is much more subtle, but the main character has many admirable qualities. The plot is quite interesting and you will be caught up in its mystery and intrigue.

The story is set in England, not far from London, and begins at Fellsworth School. Isabel Creston is summoned to the superintendent’s study. She has been at school for many years as a student and thinks his summons may mean she has secured a position as a governess. But it does not. Aunt Margaret, the sister of Isabel’s deceased mother, and Uncle Charles are offering to take Isabel and Lizzy, Isabel’s young half-sister, into their home, after just recently discovering their whereabouts. Isabel decides this is a good plan, and within the hour, she and Lizzy leave the school.

The man who has come to accompany them, Mr. Bradford, is a good friend of her Aunt and Uncle. He also runs the foundling home for orphans, located on their property. At first, the reader admires and believes him to be a suitable future match for twenty-year-old Isabel. He is handsome, polished and seems very caring and interested in his work. Later on though, we discover things are not as they seem.

Isabel also meets a handsome and charming young magistrate, Colin. Although a good friend of her uncle’s, Colin has fallen out of favor with her aunt who believes he encouraged their only son, Freddy, to go off to war where he was killed. She will not forgive him. The couple also has several daughters who are married, and one at home, Constance, who is engaged.

When the trio arrives at Emberwilde, Isabel and Lizzy are introduced to their long-lost relatives and the lovely mansion where they will live, but mystery soon abounds as Isabel discovers the window in her room has been nailed shut. She asks the servant, Burns, about this. She is told that the Emberwilde Forest at the rear of the property is called The Black Wood Forest and is believed to be haunted.  Later we discover that Colin believes that smugglers are counting on everyone’s fear, so people won’t discover the contraband hidden in the caverns by Hearne Pond.

As Isabel begins to see her aunt for who she really is, a woman extremely concerned with outward appearances and show, she begins to be homesick for Fellsworth School, the only real home and friends she has ever known. In her packed belongings, she pulls out a letter and a beautiful little sampler from her dearest friend, Mary. Mary was always completely drawn to the Lord and prayer, and sent her with a sampler that contained the Bible verse, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up,” This helps Isabel to focus on thankfulness and the responsibility she has to care for her younger sister.

At first, Isabel is drawn to Mr. Bradford, but she only sees one side of him, and suspects that he is not really as he seems. She and Lizzy begin reading to the children at the foundling home and develop some relationships there. Her young sister misses the company of other children and this experience helps her.

Aunt Margaret seems to constantly sing Mr. Bradford’s praises and when special dinners are attended by Isabel, Aunt Margaret encourages the couple to spend time together. Isabel also has several encounters with Colin and finds him to be sincere and very caring. She begins to prefer his company to Mr. Bradford’s. Aunt Margaret is not at all happy about this. Isabel discovers her aunt involved in a quiet argument with Mr. Bradford. This confuses Isabel, but she lets go of her worries.

About three weeks before Isabel turns twenty-one, Mr. Bradford proposes marriage to her. Since she feels she does not know him well and does not love him, she turns him down. She does not reveal to him another reason. She has started to have feelings for the magistrate, Colin.

Aunt Margaret is upset that Isabel turned down such a wonderful man. She accuses Isabel of disrespect and betrayal, sending her and Lizzy swiftly back to Fellsworth School. Isabel is thrilled to be reunited with Mary and thankful to be spared a loveless marriage, but she misses her life at Emberwilde, and Colin.

I won’t reveal the happy ending, but all the pieces of the mystery are solved in a clever way and all is well. This book is a very enjoyable read, especially if you like the English countryside, a little mystery, suspense, romance, and drama.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”