Fighting for Freedom: Abolition Fiction

Conway, Martha. The Underground River. Touchstone. Jun. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781501160202. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501160264. F
Seamstress May Bedloe and her cousin actress Comfort Vertue are traveling on the steamboat Moselle on the Ohio River when they are separated after the ship explodes and sinks. The year is 1838, and Comfort, who is rescued by the abolitionist Mrs. Howard, gives up her acting career to give antislavery lectures. May is hired by the owner of a floating theater troupe whose sister died on the Moselle. Making friends on the boat, she also slowly begins a romance. When May and Comfort cross paths again, Mrs. ­Howard blackmails May, who owes her a debt, into joining the Underground Railroad as she is needed to ferry the newborn babies of enslaved mothers across the river. May, even though opposed to slavery, is hesitant to risk her new life to help out. VERDICT Thanks to the success of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, the subject of the abolition movement is popular in fiction now. Conway (Thieving Forest; Sugarland) offers a novel take on the topic, and book groups will especially enjoy the distinctive setting, the rich historical details, and the thorny issues begging to be discussed. [See also David Keymer’s roundup “Slave Narratives: Six Novels Explore a Painful Legacy,” LJ 4/1/16.—Ed.]—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

Wang, Daren. The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250122353. ; ebk. ISBN 9781250122360. F
DEBUT Revenge, righteousness, and a desperation for freedom are the spirits that possess the characters of Wang’s first novel. A farm outside Buffalo, NY, in the years prior to the Civil War is the home of the prominent, prosperous Willis family. Daughter Mary returns from college as a staunch abolitionist, and takes to smuggling fugitive slaves toward the Canadian border. One winter night, she comes across a wasted, bleeding Joe Bell, escaped from a Virginia plantation. She hides him, and nurses him back to a semblance of health. When the first shots of war are fired, playboy brother Leander convinces his cronies to join him in the Union Army. But Copperheads (Northern Democrats who oppose the war) and Confederate sympathizers prowl about, and death and destruction come to haunt the area. By the war’s end, the hamlet of Town Line (the only town north of the Mason-Dixon line to secede from the Union) is as exhausted as the country is, and yet there are the beginnings of a new land. VERDICT Certainly for Civil War buffs, but readers of modern political fiction will also see some similarities with our present political passions.—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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