In Anna Bright’s The Beholder, “once upon a time begins on nights like tonight,” nights of music and revelry and hopeful expectation. But for Selah, those fairy tale notions of happily ever after come crumbling down after she’s rejected by the man she loves. Without a husband to help govern Potomac alongside her, Selah is thrust on a cross-Atlantic quest for courtship, sent off with the warning to return with a husband or not at all.
I generally live by the philosophy to never judge a book by its cover, but I can’t say I’ve encountered a cover so enticing. Luckily, its pleasing exterior foretells of the allure to be found within its pages. The Beholder takes readers on a mystifying journey alongside Selah. Although the plot was simple and at times predictable, Bright weaves a level of unpredictability and surprise into the story. With twists of deception and ulterior motives, nothing is ever quite as it seems in The Beholder.
The nature of the quest, coupled with her father’s deteriorating health, deposits a layer of urgency—an element that heavily influences Selah’s character. While a rather pragmatic character, her naivety, strong sense of duty, and desperation to return to Potomac compel her to do whatever it takes, even if it means her own unhappiness. Yet, at the same time, she has an enduring need to chart her own course and live not according to duty, but to choice. And it’s those contradictions in her character that really propel the story throughout Selah’s voyage.
As she sailed to and fro each distant land, and Bright introduced another piece to the world she concocted, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the imagination imbued to some of these places, struck by a hearty dose of wanderlust. From the elegant naturalistic structure of Arbor Hall to the ruggedness of Asgard, Bright’s world is one to relish in.
Given the nature of the plot, the crux of the novel, of course, is the romantic element among Selah and her suitors. Bright constructs these relationships well, yet I did feel, at times, they almost progressed too quickly to the point that it wasn’t realistic. Considering the small window of time allotted to Selah and each suitor, and Selah’s desire to return home, it makes sense it was written this way, but I would’ve liked for things to develop a bit more naturally. However, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this element of the story. The relationships between Selah and the suitors are sweet and leave you rooting for each one, and I’m genuinely torn between who I want her to end up with so far.
A cross between the Odyssey and Kiera Cass’s The Selection, The Beholder embarks on an enticing quest sure to satisfy fantasy-romance fans.