I was pleased to accept Trouble the Water by Jacqueline Friedland for review at no charge. I do love an historical fiction book and as I’ve mentioned I’m trying to read more books based on American history.
About Trouble the Water:
Abigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave―and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.
Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class, American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.
About the Author:
Jacqueline Friedland holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and a tiny dog.
Douglas Elling has been secretly helping to do what he can to halt the slave trade in his adopted home town of Charleston, S.C. He thinks he can walk a fine line with his neighbors but soon learns that it’s not as easy a thing to do as he first thought and he pays a heavy price for his abolition work. His life changes and so does he but his life will soon change again when the daughter of a childhood friend comes to stay with him.
Abby was sent away from England by her parents. Her family has fallen on hard times. She has been working long hours, taking care of her siblings. Her temperament is changing and it worries her father so he has turned to his old friend for help. Abby is not happy about the exile but she cannot disobey.
Her arrival in America and first meeting with her new guardian is less than auspicious. He basically hands her off to a governess and ignores her. Until she is injured and he realizes he’s been well, an ass. After that point they start to slowly connect. But forces conspire to keep them apart.
This was a intriguing take on a romance novel to be sure. The familiar themes are there but surrounded by a very serious issue – slavery. The inclusion of that makes the tale rise above the typical boy meets girl tale. The story shows a little of the arrogance of slave owners and their thoughts on “their people” without getting too graphic. The side plot of a trip on the Underground Railroad was a thrilling part of the novel and I would have loved more of it.
Ms. Friedland knows how to set a scene and do it well. As a reader you feel like you are there with the characters whether there is at a coming out ball at a Charleston plantation or a slave running in fear from that same place. It’s a real skill for an author to bring her reader into time and place like that and I always appreciate the ones that do it well.
No matter the dark underpinnings this is a love story at its heart and that aspect follows the expected path of the romance novel; boy meets girl. boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl realize they love each other, boy does something stupid, blah blah – you know the routine. I will say that Trouble the Water rises above the routine even in this aspect as the characters are more than caricatures for the most part and the plot is entertaining.