Monday, May 17, 2010

Original Sins, A Novel of Slavery & Freedom

I won this ARC from LibraryThing. Since I had never read anything by its author, Peg Kingman, I went into it with no preconceptions at all. However, it is set in Philadelphia and a plantation in Virginia in 1840, and I do know a lot about that period of our history. Either Kingman does too, or her research was impeccable since the story is true to the times.

It's a fascinating story. The main character is Grace MacDonald Pollocke, a Scot who has lived all over the world. She met and married her American husband Daniel, who is a China trader, in Canton and they settled in Philadelphia where she makes a modest living painting portraits. The story involves her decision to go to a plantation in Virginia to paint miniatures of the Grant family as a gift for their elderly father. She has an ulterior motive for the trip and cannot reveal that she is actually related to this family. The story gets complicated so I won't try to tell you more, and besides, I don't want to ruin it for you.

This is a well-written novel with wonderful characterizations. It delves into strong beliefs not only about slavery but also religion and the lack of women's rights at that time. Grace is a strong woman who butts heads with everyone because she stands up for her own opinions, refusing to be a passive "womanly" woman. She is particularly infuriated when she discovers she has no legal standing and must have her husband deal with the law on her behalf.

I do have some quibbles about the book. First, it is too long. I enjoyed long passages of her thoughts on various topics and description, but I can imagine many readers thinking, just get on with the story already! Second, the major villain is too evil. No one is completely evil in real life. For instance, there is one scene involving a chess game that is completely unnecessary. We already know the man is a real bad guy. Also, there are too many coincidences. I'm the type of reader who will give an author a lot of wiggle room with coincidence for the sake of a good story, but even I was thinking, oh come on!

Having said all that, I do recommend Original Sins because it's a rattling good story and very well written. I am an Amazon Associate.

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