Grace Curtis is the daughter of a baronet whose death left her homeless and penniless. Swallowing her pride, she approaches the town baker and offers to work off the family's debt to them for room and board. Ten years pass, and Grace is now a salaried baker and has acclimated herself to her new non-gentry status, made new friends and a life for herself.
All that changes when the Marquis of Quarle (with whom Grace bonded over her Quimby Crèmes biscuits) dies leaving Grace a bequest. She is given the dower house in which to live and £30 a year. She also learns that the Marquis has a bastard son, an American naval POW in Dartmoor Prison, who is to be paroled into her care until the War of 1812 is over.
When Grace and the lawyer reach the infamous prison, they find the Marquis' son near death. He begs Grace to take another prisoner in his place and she chooses Rob Inman, who looks to be the weakest of the lot. The switch is quickly made and Rob goes home with Grace.
Rob is a pretty typical Carla Kelly hero - down to earth, pragmatic but with a sense of humor, and a longing for his home in Nantucket. As his health recovers, he proves to be a kind man, though restless and with dark shadows from his time in prison and his concern for his friends left behind. As he must never leave Grace's sight, he goes to the bakery with her and slowly turns a suspicious community into friends. I missed one thing in Kelly's writing of Rob - she never shows us any of Rob's point of view. Though he is eloquent in his anguish - "Each day I wonder, is this the day the war of finally over? What about tomorrow? What if it never ends and I am stuck here? What if Lord Thomson revokes my parole and I am sent back to Dartmoor?" - I missed that deeper connection to him and would have liked to had more access to his growing feelings for Grace.
Grace makes the greater personal journey, from landed gentry to indentured servant. She loses all her friends and must begin a new, harsher life. She does so with grace, though she still suffers some pangs about how far she has "slipped," and her burgeoning feelings for Rob - a common sailing master - aggravates some of her old wounds.
There is some mysterious villain and an equally mysterious benefactor about, which didn't add much to the story, in my opinion, and this plotline got a bit in the way. But, this is a minor quibble. Grace and Rob, and indeed the entire village of Quimby, are well worth the reading. Marriage of Mercy is a lovely romance.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, June 27, 2012