Set in 1850s America this book tell the story of two women, one black and one white, who are both desperate to escape the ties that bind them. Julia is a Northern woman, raised by and assistant to her parson father. She is totally unused to the complexities of life in South Carolina. As the new wife of a plantation owner she is expected to conform to her role and keep her opinions about the slave trade to herself. Julia becomes attached to young maid Fanny who illustrates the reality of a slave's life and gives her the strength to cope with her new set of circumstances. Essentially the two have the same dream, to be free to determine their own lives.
I have read quite a lot of historical fiction in the past, particularly that set in places other than the UK, but I don't ever recall reading about the place and time this book is set. I have some awareness of the slave trade but this book was something of an eye-opener. In addition to the commentary on the prevalent attitudes to race it also embraces the role of women at the time. As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into how life might have been and the tensions between the North and the South it is also a tale of friendship and romance. I enjoyed the balance between the various elements and the tension in the latter part of the book as the two women make a bid for freedom.
Julia is a slightly naive young woman who has expected to spend her life a spinster, devoted to serving her father and God. When Nathaniel Hamilton proposes marriage she envisions a wonderful new life in the bosom of a new family. Watching her dreams shatter was sad but I was pleased she retained a spark of optimism and found the strength to try and overcome her situation. Her life is a complete contrast to Fanny's, and although her problems seem trivial in comparison to that of a slave's she is just as much Nathaniel's property and equally at the mercy of his whims.
I found this a very enjoyable read, warming to several of the characters and appreciating the descriptive powers of the author. I was drawn through a range of emotions as the story progressed, particularly once we were introduced to the Underground Railroad and the work to try and liberate slaves. As a slight negative there were a couple of small typos in the form of spelling errors, and the book could have been formatted a little better to make it easier for the reader to identify where the point of view changed in the course of a chapter. However these were minor issues. I came away from this book very pleased to reflect on how far the world has moved on since then, even if things still aren't perfect.
Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*