Apr 5 2008
Dear Mrs Gunning,
A friend of mine told me about your first book in this series. Raved about it in fact. And I had put it down on my TBB list but just never got around to making the purchase. When Jane sent me the arc for “Bound,” I got all excited and told myself that this one would be a book I was definitely going to try.
I love how you unobtrusively slipped in the everyday details of life in mid 18th century America. From producing cloth to sailing to Cape Cod to disseminating information in a world with no Internet nor 24 hour TV newscasters. I learned a great deal about indentured servitude, politics, how important religion still was in the Massachusetts colony and the many varied ways that women could be screwed over by men and the system. Literally. It’s almost enough to make a modern girl weep.
Alice Cole has only the vaguest memories of London, nightmares about the passage to America which cost the lives of her mother and two brothers, and dreams about the life she would like to have with her father in Philadelphia. But financial realities determine that he has her bound in order to pay her passage. At age seven she begins eleven years of service of which only eight had been completed before the daughter of the house marries. Alice is sent with Abigail to her new home to finish her contract and almost immediately discovers how helpless she is in the face of the sexual abuse her new master casually inflicts on her.
When she realizes she’ll get no help from Abigail, she flees. When she finds no assistance from her former master, she runs even farther. A chance encounter near the docks of Boston determine her fate as she stows away on a ship headed back to Cape Cod. And at this point in her life, finally luck throws her a few crumbs.
Lyddie Berry is a woman who knows how hard life can be on a woman. And she senses that regardless of what Alice will admit to, life has knocked her around too. Lyddie’s boarder is less ready to trust the young woman and gives Alice all the rope needed to hang herself. But after a while, even Eben Freeman admits that Alice is a hard worker, trustworthy in all things except her mysterious past and not one to shirk a task. But how far will these two be willing go to help when Alice’s past finally catches up with her?
Alice is bound to her master as America was bound to England. Eben Freeman sues for Alice’s freedom from the laws binding her “with cause.” It ends up costing her to gain her freedom from the oppression of Verley even though she was the injured party just as it will ultimately end up costing America to gain its freedom from England. Just as I learned much about indentured servants, I discovered I still have some things to learn about American history namely about James Otis and how he helped spark the cause of liberty in Boston. As I finished the book I wondered if Alice’s mother and brothers hadn’t died, would she and her father have separated into servitude? As well, if James Otis hadn’t fanned the flames of rebellion would we have ventured down the road to independence from England when we did?
I was frankly astounded that Alice can’t speak in her own defense during either trial. Clearly I have a lot to learn about trial law in the 18th century. I wasn’t as surprised to learn that she’s subjected to men no matter where she turns – her first master turns her over to Verley who abuses her then when she runs, Verley can place ad to get her back. She must suffer the loss of her reputation due to what was done to her yet is still dependent on a male lawyer to argue for her and an all male jury to judge her. All of this reinforces what Widow Berry has already learned, that a woman’s independence is a hard won thing and not to be taken lightly. I can see the fact that Alice is still too young to realize how important that is and why Lyddie refuses to remarry.
The book is sparse in dialogue. These aren’t intellectuals who debate for fun nor hold salons. They’re hardworking people who can’t afford the luxury of endless chatter. Life is hard and you must work non stop in order to provide for you and yours. The descriptions of Cape Cod are wonderful: the land, the sea, the seasons, the flow of life there. We see neighbors pulling together (at the watermelon frolic) and sitting in judgment on each other (during trial). Church is still important and Alice is shocked when Lyddie not only doesn’t go to meeting but actually works on the Sabbath.
One question I’m still working out is why does Alice make the choice she does at book’s end? I can see why she denies her pregnancy both to herself (if I deny it, it doesn’t exist) and Widow Berry and Freeman (if I deny it, I can stay in place of safety for that much longer). But Widow has put up money and Freeman has given of his time to remove her from Verley. I suppose she’s looking to start fresh, away from the lies and judgments she left in Cape Cod.
I’m glad to have had a chance to try your work and have already purchased an ebook copy of “The Widow’s War” (love the instant gratification of ebooks!). After a trip to your website, I’m happy to see that you have further plans for novels set in this world and eagerly await them. B for “Bound.”