I am one of those people who really like historical fiction. I love reading books that transport me to another place and time and allow me to see the world through the eyes of the people who lived before me. My love affair began when I read the Little House on the Prarie books as a child, and was solidified in high school when I read James A. Michener's Hawaii. I have to disclose, though, that the period of history that I have read the least about is probably the Antebellum South. That is the time period for this book whose main character, Jasper Wainwright, finds himself back in his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina in 1849 after traveling the world. From the synopsis of the book, the main story line is supposed to revolve around the fact that Jasper is falling in love with his cousin Cara, but that he has no love for the South and it's policy of slavery.
I may be the only one, but I had a really hard time getting through this book. It sat on my shelf for days while I only read a few pages at a time. Partially this was due to the fact that I kept comparing it to other books about the South and slavery that I have recently read, namely Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill, both of which had fascinating characters and a rich story lines. In comparison, I found this book lacking. To me, the author could have done a lot more with both the subject matter, and the main characters of Henry Birch, Cara Randall, and Jasper Wainwright.
For example, in the publisher's blurb about the book it says "As cries for secession grow louder, Jasper works desperately to convince Beaufort planters that gradual emancipation and transition to a wage-based economy could avert the coming storm of war." Yet I found Jasper's attempts in this arena to be too short and too easily abandoned. I also found his inability to figure out that Cara's alter ego was being the writer of the anonymous letters to the Charleston Courier was unbelievable. Even I figured it out early on. In addition, I would have liked Henry Birch more if he wasn't such a perfect slave owner. I found his character unrealistic. Lastly, Beaufort is purported to be " the most hotheaded, secessionist city in the South" yet when neither party is injured in a duel between Jasper and another of Cara's suitors, the two men just shake hands and walk away. Really?? Does't seem to fit the "hot headed" category to me.
I was fascinated, though, by the references to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and the way the women of Beaufort reacted to them. I also would have liked to have seen more of Cara's maid Minnie and Spit Jim, who seemed to be much more interesting than any of the other characters. But perhaps the most interesting thing in the whole book to me was the author's note about how the people of Beaufort abandoned the city in a very Pompeii like fashion when the war with the North started, and how the North used the town as a headquarter during the war. This fact is even alluded to in the synopsis of the book, but is never brought into the story.
I know some have compared this book to Gone With the Wind. I would say that it is Gone With the Wind with all of the good parts and characters removed. To me, this book just did not deliver.