The Orphan Mother reintroduces Robert Hicks’s The Widow of the South’s Mariah Reddick and Carrie McGavock – a book I have not yet read. In this new book, it’s 1867, the war is over and slaves are slowing trying to transition into Southern society. Mariah’s son, Theopolis, has political aspirations and plans to speak at a political rally – against his mother’s advice.
Meanwhile, former Union sharpshooter and broken alcoholic George Tole has been hired by magistrate, Elijah Dixon to shoot and kill political rival, Jesse Bliss. Dixon arranges a diversion to allow Tole the opportunity to do the deed. Unfortunately, Theopolis ends up being severely beaten and murdered during the staged riot instead. In an effort to redirect her grief, Mariah makes it her mission to find and punish the people responsible for her son’s death. Tole, still grieving and deeply guilt-ridden over his own son’s death, takes a liking to Mariah and he soon joins her on her mission of justice.
At the heart of this book is a powerfully compelling story. Told from two perspectives, that of Mariah’s and Tole’s, readers are given a front row seat into what life must have been like for newly freed slaves. And, as most of know, it was a shameful time in American history.
I had some difficulty connecting with, and liking, Mariah. I found her to be somewhat one-dimensional. She had one emotion – anger. I would have liked to have seen her softer side now and then. Although I do get it. She was angry. She lived her life as a slave, as no more than someone else’s property. She lost her husband and then she lost her only child. She had every right to be angry, but to me it made her and her dialogue appear rigid, stilted and unsympathetic.
On the other hand, I found George Tole to be an extremely likable character. His character was much more developed than Mariah’s was. We saw his vulnerability and pain clearly. In fact, I felt as though the author put much more effort into Tole’s character. It made me wonder if Mr. Hicks had struggled to find a true voice for Mariah. Getting inside the head of a female character can be difficult for a man and I feel Mariah’s character suffered because of it. Honestly, George Tole saved this story for me. Without him, I doubt I would have enjoyed this book nearly as much as I did.
I did have to wonder how plausible the part where Mariah addresses the tribunal was. Surely, a newly freed slave – and a woman at that – testifying and making public accusations would not have been taken as seriously and with as little contempt as it was portrayed in the book. It gave the author the opportunity to allow Mariah to voice her opinions about racial injustice, so I figured that’s why it was done this way.
The Orphan Mother is deeply moving, particularly near the end. I would love it if the author would write a prequel to tell Tole’s backstory. I know I’d read it. I highly recommend The Orphan Mother to anyone interested in Historical Fiction, American History, African American History and the Civil War.
5 of 5 Stars Review by Susan Barton
eBook Review Gal received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.