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Rosslyn Elliott returns with her second Saddler’s Legacy novel, Sweeter than Birdsong, based on the real life stories of the Hanby family, from Thomas Nelson.
Music offers Kate sweet refuge from her troubles…but real freedom is sweeter.
Westerville, Ohio, 1855: Kate Winter’s dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she’ll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance–and use it to mask her flight.
Ben Hanby, Otterbein College’s musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.
A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.
Enjoy meeting Kate and Ben!
Kate is like an orchid: silent but lovely. Her extreme shyness hides her high intelligence, as she one of the first female college graduates in America in 1857. She is very fair-skinned, with dark hair and bright blue eyes. I imagine her singing voice as a silvery light soprano, with a hint of an Irish sound. Actress Liv Tyler would be a good choice to play Kate, because she has the right coloring and she’s very good at playing the kind of delicate but courageous woman that Kate needs to be. The mystery of Liv Tyler when she played Arwen in Lord of the Rings is a good match for Kate.
Ben is a genius composer and has an intense artistic look, with his dark hair and brown eyes. I had to go WAY back to find someone with the appropriate refined but strong look, and that’s classic Hollywood actor Montgomery Clift. Monty Clift even looks a bit like the real Ben Hanby, who was quite handsome in real life.
Strengths and weaknesses
The hidden trauma of Kate’s dysfunctional family has left her withdrawn and unable to feel comfortable in social situations. She finds comfort in riding her horse, Garnet, and sneaks off to jump Garnet over tall hedges when no one is around. If her mother knew, Mrs. Winter would be scandalized and worried, as jumping in a sidesaddle can be dangerous. As the story progresses, Kate learns to care for others who are in need of her help, and finds her public voice to stand up for what is right.
Ben is a leader of his college class at Otterbein University, a man of faith, gifted in music and in academic pursuits. He speaks very well in public, as is only natural for the son of a minister who has heard his father preach against slavery his whole life. His compassion for others is his great strength, but his drive to help fugitives escape can lead him to act without thinking. Still, his understanding nature helps Kate to come out of her shell and begin to trust others, especially when unexpected danger looms for both of them.
Your inspiration for the characters
Kate Winter and Ben Hanby were real people who lived in central Ohio in the nineteenth century. The dramatic story in Sweeter than Birdsong is based in fact, with a few changes and additions to make the story flow smoothly and give it unity. From the moment I walked into the Hanby House museum in Westerville, Ohio, I knew I had to tell the Hanby family story, so others could be inspired by their example of love and courage.