Book Review: At the Water's Edge

At the Water's Edge
By: Sara Gruen
Published By:
Spiegel & Grau
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Page Count: 368
Source: ARC Kindly Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
 Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Fantastical monsters, Scottish highlands, complicated romance, and World War II air raids -- this novel has something for everyone! At it's core, At the Water's Edge is a coming of a certain age novel (coming of age, for a woman of a certain age), with a hint of magic, a bunch of romance, and a hefty dose of history.

The setting is idyllic and foreign, and the war and search for Nessie is a nice backdrop, but it is Gruen's character that SHINE. She has created completely damaged and sympathetic characters who readers will identify with and loathe in the same paragraph. Ellis and Maddie's relationship is complex and has a Tom-Myrtle-Daisy-Gatsby quality to it that I couldn't quite pinpoint, but was fascinated by. I also ADORED Anna and Meg as richly drawn and lively secondary characters.

The plot is interesting, if a bit oddly paced. For the last 35% of the book I found myself either repeatedly involved in the minutia of daily life or witness to an incredibly quick love at first sight that I just wasn't able to fully suspend disbelief for and fall hook-line-and-sinker. The search for Nessie, and the excess of the very rich, are believable catalysts for other events that take place down the road.

And don't let the marketing fool you, this isn't an adventure story, or a story about a monster trapped in a loch, or even a story about WWII. What it is is a lovely, character-driven, historical romance with fantastic female leads who carry the story and loathsome male antagonists who give them someone/something to overcome. Fans of Sara Gruen and historical romance will enjoy this immensely!

Summary via Goodreads

In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.