In the first of her series of Civil War Heroines, Mary Ellis pits an abolitionist Quaker maid against a Rebel leader of a band of rangers. Having no family left, Emily Harrison agrees to be a governess in the Bennington household in Virgina, making it clear that her Quaker convictions cannot abide slavery. When her charges are sent to Europe for safety, Emily stays on as a companion to the lady of house so that she can aid slaves through the underground railroad. Alexander Hunt, nephew of Mrs. Bennington, has fallen far from the Quaker ideals his mother imparted in his youth, though he refuses to harm or kill in his role as the Grey Wraith, the leader of a band of gentleman who plague the Union by stealing their goods. In spite of strongly differing opinions with Emily and the danger he flirts with in pursuing a Yankee, he finds himself falling for her. Can two people so firmly on opposite sides of the war fall in love without compromising their convictions?
For a Quaker, a person of peace and simplicity, Emily is
extremely strong-minded, apt to lose her temper, and tempted toward
vanities - she likes pretty dresses, a touch of make-up, and a bit of
male attention. She is quick to judge the Benningtons and Hunts as evil for keeping slaves, even under much fairer and more positive conditions than much of the South, yet she promptly lies to them and uses them to further her own ends, not to mention judges them (and does so unfairly). Given her tendency toward bigotry, an apt verse for her would be, "How can you say to your
brother, 'let me remove the speck from your eye,' and look, a plank is
in your own? Hypocrite! Remove first the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matt 7:4-5). She has far to go to realize the kindness and goodness in her employers.
Given that Emily and Alexander are firmly planted on opposite sides of the war, I could not anticipate how they were going to compromise enough develop a relationship in the first place, let alone forge one strong enough to survive the war. Both Emily and Alexander are stiff with pride; she is strongly prejudiced against the South and he against the North, and though they both agree that slavery is wrong, they disagree on how to abolish it. However, they both grow - Emily out of her bigoted idealism, and Alexander out of the dissipated lifestyle into which he had fallen.
The story grew on me. At first I was frustrated with both of the main characters - Emily especially - but as the plot increases in danger and excitement and they learn to set aside their prejudices, they improve remarkably. Since neither the North nor the South embodies "good" or "evil," and since neither character is secretly working on the same side as the other, I could not anticipate what the outcome of the story would be, other than supposing that the two would find a way to compromise and fall in love and knowing that the Union would ultimately win. Would Alexander abandon his role as the Grey Wraith to be with Emily? Would he join Emily in helping slaves to freedom? Would Emily get herself caught while freeing slaves? Would battle catch up with them and strike them with the deaths of friends and family? It is nice to read a novel in which the plot could go so many different ways that one cannot expect what is to come. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Thank you Harvest House and Netgalley for providing a free, advance
e-copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to make it
positive; all opinions expressed are my own.