Friday, May 29, 2015
The Whistle Walk by Stephania McGee
A Mississippi Plantation: Civil War pits countrymen against one another and tears a nation asunder. Life and death are held in the balance where everyone is a slave to something. One is born free, yet lives as a soul in bondage... Lydia Harper never intended to purchase a slave. But when she witnesses a woman being beaten in the street, all her pretenses begin to unravel. A bride to a man she barely knows and bound by her secrets, Lydia will risk everything to save a stranger. Amid the War Between the States, the mistress of Ironwood faces the battles in her own heart and discovers strength in a way she never imagined. The other is born to serve, yet holds the spirit of freedom... Ruth, standing on the threshold of desperation, has lost everything she holds dear. After being pulled from the dirt, she is no longer a field hand but the personal maid to the lady of Ironwood. Ruth soon realizes adversity pays no mind to the color of skin. When propriety slips, she discovers they have more in common than she dreamed possible. In a time when fear brings the South to its knees, two women will forge a friendship in the fires of redemption and thrust Ironwood into a new future - where the battle for freedom has merely begun.
Gee willikers! This one was a tough one. And I must say, I picked up another newbie author quite by accident, again. And this book, like others I’ve read from new authors, has so much good and so much that needs improving it makes rating it difficult.
First, the good. The title intrigued me and, as a girl of the Old South, was not a phrase I had heard. (You must read the book to find out what it means.) McGee later uses the idea as a symbol of the characters choices as they work to change their life. Definitely an opportunity not wasted.
The battle scenes three-fourths of the way through were really well-written. They moved along quickly, the description was well done, and came from the characters’ experiences. I literally felt as if I was there. I could hear the sounds and smell the blood. Frankly, battle and fight scenes are some of the hardest to write, but McGee does a fabulous job.
The character of Ruth, who is the slave woman, is captivating. Her goals are clear and immediate at the beginning, so that the reader is sucked into the story. (She carries the story through the first third of the book. If it had not been for her, I might not have kept reading.)
McGee pulls off the dialogue of the slaves like a seasoned pro. Usually, slave dialogue comes across stiff and hard to read, but McGee pulls a few tricks with the writing that makes it flow from the page. The result? The reader is not forced to labor over the dialogue which causes them to pull out of the story.
The contrasting world of black and white at this time is well-done. Lydia is torn between Ruth’s forced station in life and even her own. In a particularly poignant scene, as the war is tearing Ironwood apart, Lydia remarks that “she always thought being equal would make them [the slaves] more like her. She’d never considered giving up her place to be more like them.” Definitely powerful stuff going on here!
Now, the not so good. Or, I should say “the could be better.” While Ruth’s story was well done, Lydia’s suffers from unclear goals until nearly the halfway point of the book. There are also a number of historical inconsistencies in her character. For example, she doesn’t seem to know a lot about running a Southern household, but she grew up on a plantation. Neither did she understand social “codes of conduct” in the Old South. For example, slaves did not ride in carriages, nor did the plantation mistress go to the slaves’ quarters. It lies with Ruth to tell her how to act. Had Lydia been Northern born, this would have been understandable. But considering the fact she was Southern born, and her mother definitely knew her place and how to work it, Lydia would have known hers. Her character’s transformation is also a bit unexplained, so that she seems to be all over the page as far as a character is concerned—wallflower, waif, crusader, warrior, do-gooder, etc., etc.
As for her husband, Charles, he seems a bit too good to be true. He, too, has no immediate, angst-filled goals until the war arrives at his doorstep. He loves Lydia. He wishes to marry her. He doesn’t seem much to care what she does. He doesn’t wish to go to war. That is about it.
The setting was also a bit bland (except for the war scenes). Every now and then I would hear a turn of a phrase and an apt description, but they were few and far between and the book definitely needed more. I, for one, like to “feel” that I am there, and I did not feel that way in some parts of this book, although in others I did.
All in all, though, this was an enjoyable read. I have thought about the book days after finishing it, and I think I will break my rule and move right to the second in this series as it looks so interesting.
I guess that says a lot on its own. Three roses for this one.
Thanks for visiting Julie, Rose, Donna & Rochelle
Length: 366 pages