To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander is a well-timed novel, from a beloved and trusted author. It’s the third novel in the Belle Meade Plantation series.
Courage through adversity is a recurring theme throughout the novel. I enjoyed reading more about the freedmen of post-civil war America, and the perspective of life at that time from several different points of view. Tamera Alexander is never one to sugar coat reality, and she didn’t shy away from writing about the prejudices of the time.
About To Wager Her Heart (synopsis from Goodreads.com)
With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society’s expectations must work together to achieve their dreams—provided that the truth doesn’t tear them apart first.
Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father’s name. One man holds the key to Sy’s success—General William Giles Harding of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks. Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville’s society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he’s found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison’s fiancee—and what has broken her heart.
Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen’s university in the United States. But family—and Nashville society—do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both. Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy’s roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor?
Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn’t count on is having to wager her heart to do it.
Set against the real history of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation and the original Fisk University Jubilee Singers ensemble, To Wager Her Heart is a stirring love story about seeking justice and restoring honor at a time in history when both were tenuous and hard-won.
My Thoughts on To Wager Her Heart
This isn’t a novel that shows a romantic South, but one that shows readers a harder, and more honest perspective.
That being said, there is still romance. The relationship that grows between the two protagonists, Alexandra and Sylas, was sweet and convincing. They’re both highly intelligent, persistent, and very relatable as they forge ahead to pursue their God-given hopes and dreams while facing the reality of fear and disappointments during a harsh time in America. They face walls of opposition around every corner, Alexandra for pursuing her dream to teach America’s freedmen and Sylas for standing for what he believes and seeking truths that are well hidden.
The attention to historical facts in To Wager Her Heart is on point. I found myself searching online (and finding) many of the real life characters referenced in the story, especially Fisk University and the Jubilee singers. The author knows how to pull such detail into her novels that make the reader feel as though they were walking along the very streets of Nashville and interacting with the people there.
My only wish is that there had been more to the very ending of the book. While it ended well, I feel it was a little abrupt. I wanted to know more about what happened to the university, the singers, and even to the main characters. Some issues were resolved, some were left unfinished. I know that was the author’s intention, and it was well done, but I personally just wanted a little more.
I’ve read all three of the Belle Meade Plantation books, and overall To Wager Her Heart was a great conclusion to the series. 4 stars!