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Romance, History and Adventure - an Editorial Review of "West of Santillane"

Book Blurb:

"West of Santillane" is not just an account of historical events but also a story of love, resilience, and self-discovery. Brook Allen successfully blends romantic, historical, and adventurous elements, offering readers a captivating and memorable reading experience. The book is a warm recommendation for those who appreciate well-documented historical fiction and engaging life narratives.

~The Historical Fiction Company~

Desperate to escape a mundane future as a Virginia planter’s wife, Julia Hancock seizes her chance for adventure when she wins the heart of American hero William Clark. Though her husband is the famed explorer, Julia embarks on her own thrilling and perilous journey of self-discovery.

With her gaze ever westward, Julia possesses a hunger for knowledge and a passion for helping others. She falls in love with Will’s strength and generous manner, but, like her parents, he is a slave owner, and Julia harbors strong opinions against slavery. Still, her love for Will wins out, though he remains unaware of her beliefs.

Julia finds St. Louis to be a rough town with few of the luxuries to which she is accustomed, harboring scandalous politicians and miscreants of all types. As her husband and his best friend, Meriwether Lewis, work to establish an American government and plan to publish their highly anticipated memoirs, Julia struggles to assume the roles of both wife and mother. She is also drawn into the plight of an Indian family desperate to return to their own lands and becomes an advocate for Will’s enslaved.

When political rivals cause trouble, Julia’s clandestine aid to the Indians and enslaved of St. Louis draws unwanted attention, placing her at odds with her husband. Danger cloaks itself in far too many ways, leading her to embrace the courage to save herself and others through a challenge of forgiveness that will either restore the love she shares with Will or end it forever.

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Author Bio:

Author Brook Allen has a passion for history. Her newest project, West of Santillane spotlights history from a little closer to home. It’s the story of Julia Hancock, who married famed explorer, William Clark. Each character of this thrilling, adventurous period was researched throughout southwest Virginia and into Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota. It launches in March of 2024.

Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, it was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards and also won First Place in the prestigious Chaucer Division in the Chanticleer International Book Awards, 2020.

The Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she worked on for fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her Antonius Trilogy. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and big, black dog, Jak. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

Editorial Review:

"West of Santillane" is a captivating story written by Brook Allen, taking us on a fascinating journey through the picturesque landscapes of Virginia in the early 19th century. The book is rich in vivid details and well-defined characters, providing readers with an immersion into a world full of adventure and challenges.


The story begins near the town of Fincastle, Virginia, in July 1801, with a captivating scene where the heroine, Julia, attempts to cross a small stream on the stubborn horse, King Georgie: “No horse could plant his feet like King Georgie. I kicked him hard with my heels again, but he didn’t budge an inch. The old draft horse was stubborn as a mule and ornery too. Papa had named him well— after the real King George who lost thirteen colonies when we won the War for Independence.” This lively introduction sets the tone of the book and reveals the brave and adventurous personality of the protagonist.


Allen manages to create an authentic setting, illustrating life in Virginia during that period, with mentions of summer storms, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the social relationships of the characters. The language used is rich and evocative, allowing readers to feel the atmosphere and connect with the world surrounding the characters.


The characters are well-drawn, and their relationships add complexity and depth to the story. Julia, in particular, is portrayed as a courageous and adventurous young woman with a desire for exploration and an independent spirit. The dialogues are natural and contribute to the development of the characters and the plot.


An intriguing element is the appearance of the mysterious William Clark and his encounter with Julia during her journey. This meeting marks a turning point in the story and adds an intriguing aspect, opening new perspectives for the heroine. “My sudden inhale was more a gasp. Time had frozen, and I’d left my last breath somewhere in the middle of the letter. Captain Clark had certainly been cordial the short time we had spent together on that fateful day so long past, during my misadventure with Harri. But I’d been nothing but a child, and it was hard to imagine any impression I’d made then was enough for him to pursue me now. [...] We both laughed. While standing still again, holding hands, he said, “Julia, I must declare my intentions before any more time passes. In just a few days, I must leave for Washington City. That’s why I was anxious for some time alone with you, for I need to hear your feelings on this matter. [...]Therefore, I would like permission to court you. My intentions are honorable, and should either of us decide this relationship is not worthy of further effort, then we must be open and voice it, painful or not.”


Brook Allen immerses us in the midst of intrigues and complicated relationships, highlighting the dynamics between Judith and her mother. Concerned for her daughter's well-being, the mother discovers a hidden pamphlet, triggering a tense discussion. The author manages to capture the characters' emotions and create palpable tension, bringing the reader into the midst of the events.


The plot unfolds with the arrival of Letitia and the events that follow at the annual Hancock family pig roast. The conflict between Judith and Letitia adds a dramatic element, and the narrative reveals unexpected aspects of the relationships between the characters.


A significant shift occurs with the news brought by Harri and Dr. John, adding a touch of suspense and romance. Captain William Clark's letter opens a new chapter in Judith's life, offering her the opportunity for a potential marriage: „Soon you and I will be housekeeping together, and it is with much longing that I think of Starting a family with you at my Side. When we last embraced, I could tell you felt the Same way. ”

The author skillfully addresses themes such as love, family, and social expectations of that time. Details about Captain Clark's expedition add an interesting and adventurous element, striking a balance between the romantic and historical aspects of the story.


The love story between Will and the main heroine, with the romantic and nostalgic tones of their letters, creates a strong emotional connection with the reader. Their love is tested by geographic distance and the perils of life in St. Louis, adding an element of suspense and drama.


The book's plot intertwines with the historical events of the time, including Lewis and Clark's expedition, the westward expansion beyond the Mississippi River, and tensions between American settlers and Native Americans. These elements contribute to the narrative richness of the book, providing readers with a detailed perspective on the social and political context of the time.


The relationship between the main characters and Meriwether Lewis adds another layer of complexity to the story. Dialogues and interactions between these three protagonists reveal interesting nuances of interpersonal relationships and moral dilemmas.


Each provided fragment presents a distinct situation or event, contributing to the construction of a comprehensive and captivating story. From Will and the female character's separation before his journey to Meriwether Lewis's arrival and exploration of life in St. Louis, each sequence adds a new layer of depth and story development. The story unfolds in a challenging period of Julia's life, marking her encounter with Will at a ball and detailing their tumultuous relationship. Fragments from their journey with mules and the young child add a touch of reality and build the atmosphere of their journey to Fincastle.


The tragic moment of Meriwether Lewis's suicide adds an unexpected twist, and the impact on the characters, especially Will and Julia, is conveyed with strong emotional intensity. Allen manages to outline the characters' pain and confusion in the face of this shocking event.


Detailed descriptions of places and atmospheres bring the story to life, and readers will be captivated by the varied landscapes and the shifts from elegant balls to challenging journeys on difficult roads. The characters are well-drawn and evolve in a believable way throughout the story. Julia, in particular, is portrayed as a strong, independent woman capable of facing the challenges of pioneer life.


The ending of "West of Santillane" is an emotional and significant moment, bringing an optimistic note to the story and emphasizing the evolution of the main characters. This conclusion gives readers a sense of closure and understanding, highlighting the maturity and solidity of the relationship between Julia and Will Clark.


The key moment at the end is Will's gesture of giving Julia a journal, thus marking his deep recognition and appreciation for her. This journal is not just a material object but becomes a symbol of Will's trust in Julia's literary talents and her unique voice.


Through this gesture, Will expresses confidence that Julia has her own adventures and thoughts worthy of recording. Instead of limiting Julia's role to supporting Will and family life, he opens the door to a world where she can express her individuality and aspirations: „So today, I’m giving this new journal to you—but it’s not for household inventories.” My heart rushed ahead of his words with anticipation. “I want you to write,” he whispered, placing the journal into my hands. “You’ve always had a gift and love for words, and Lewis saw it well before I did. You’ve an impressive education, so write what you want. Create something and make it heartfelt. Make it yours.”


The ending also provides readers with a glimpse of future possibilities for Julia. The message conveyed through this gesture is that the world is open, and Julia is given the chance to find her own voice and write her own story. In a subtle way, this conclusion leaves the door open for future explorations and personal adventures of Julia in her ever-changing world: „I snuggled into his side, closer. He was right. Everybody knew about Lewis and Clark, but my adventures were yet untold.”


Through this ending, Brook Allen manages to provide readers with an emotionally charged and understanding conclusion, emphasizing that each character has their own journey, and life is a continuous discovery. It is a beautiful conclusion that satisfactorily completes the captivating and complex journey presented in "West of Santillane."


"West of Santillane" is not just an account of historical events but also a story of love, resilience, and self-discovery. Brook Allen successfully blends romantic, historical, and adventurous elements, offering readers a captivating and memorable reading experience. The book is a warm recommendation for those who appreciate well-documented historical fiction and engaging life narratives.


“West of Santillane” by Brook Allen receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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