Lori Benton's novel set in the lost state of Franklin - an area now belonging to Tennessee - grabs the attention from page one and never lets go. When Tamsen Littlejohn's avaricious and vicious stepfather pushes her on Ambrose Kincaid, a wealthy man of questionable morals, Tamsen is torn in her desire to escape her stepfather. However, when the man's violence reaches a new level, Tamsen flees with the help of the frontiersman Jesse Bird. Furious, her stepfather pursues her, along with Kincaid, who believes she has been kidnapped. As hostilities heat up between supporters of the state of North Carolina and the state of Franklin, as well as between whites and Cherokee, Tamsen and Jesse find themselves not only fleeing her stepfather and Kincaid, but also dodging the violence tearing the disputed state apart. Is there a land somewhere where Tamsen can be free and safe? Or will they be run to ground and forced to face her pursuers?
Since I enjoyed Benton's Burning Sky so much, I was highly anticipating this novel. When the book arrived in the mail, I held off most of the day to get some work done, but when I began the novel, I barely paused halfway through to make some hot chocolate, ultimately skipping supper and staying up later than I should have to finish it (but it was worth it!). Fast-paced and riveting, the story not only has a captivating plot and characters, but the setting - both in its depiction of history and descriptions of the Appalachians - is beautifully written.
As one who has never been to the East Coast and never extensively studied its history, I was surprised to discover that the state of Franklin was real (having only ever heard of it in an alternate reality fantasy novel). Though it never officially achieved statehood, the easternmost region of Tennessee, which had belonged to North Carolina, vied violently for statehood. It makes for a creative and fascinating backdrop to the story.
While in many historical novels a woman's reputation is placed before her welfare, I liked that such was not the case in this one. Reverend Teague counsels prudence before marriage - do not rush to marry for protection or to salvage one's reputation, but wait to be sure it is a marriage worth committing one's life to. Through the reverend, Benton emphasizes that it is a covenant not to be entered lightly, and that a promise before God is to take precedence over worldly concerns. Marriage may solve one's immediate troubles, but if it ultimately ends in either misery or dishonoring a covenant before God, is it worth it? Then, too, when they are ready to marry (and for the right reasons), their marriage will be all the sweeter.
It was a beautiful and captivating read. Not only did the characters all have depth - full histories, quirks, and strengths yet to be discovered, but also they were easy to relate to. There were a couple instances in which I could readily sympathize, having experienced similar (including a variation on the squirrel incident). Highly recommended - 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you WaterBrook/Multnomah and Blogging for Books for a free advance reader copy of the book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.
P.S. Not that it is really important, but I had to make note: Covers tend to be hit or miss - sometimes they depict the story fairly well, and sometimes you know the cover designer never even glanced at the story details. However, this cover is spot on - I reached a certain scene in my reading and realized, "Wow, that's the cover!"
And be sure to check out the author's other colonial epic, Burning Sky!
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