Caribousmom is where I first read anything about this book. It was in the newly released section of the library recently and recognizing the name as one I wanted to read, it came home with me that day.
Set in 1862 during the Civil War, the reader is introduced to Cassius, a carpenter and slave on the Sweetsmoke plantation. Cassius is a favorite of Howard Hoke, the landowner, and is allowed some liberties the other slaves do not. Emoline, a former Sweetsmoke slave who was given her freedom by Hoke, is found murdered in her home. She was a mother figure to Cassius who taught him how to read and write though no one knows he is literate. Cassius uses his liberties and smarts to find out the identity of the murderer.
The book is a well done piece of historical fiction. Interactions of the characters based on their station and during a time when resources are scarce ring true. Customs are explained without reading like a textbook.
It asks some philosophical questions about loyalty and what constitutes freedom. How loyal should a slave be to his or her owner? Can a slave be loyal to friends and loved ones even if it comes at a cost? How does one earn loyalty from another? Is freedom something granted by someone in a position of power? Or is freedom experienced through literacy and independence? These questions are reminiscent of the debate between human law and natural law which I found fascinating in college.
The timeline of events was a bit confusing or rushed near the end of the novel when Howard Hoke takes ill but that’s a minor complaint. For a debut novel this is a solid effort.