On a moonlit night in 1905, in a cabin on a Philippine island, young Benjamin Potter lies screaming on his bed. Ben arrived years earlier with the US Infantry to fight in the Philippine-American War, but subsequently succumbed to opium addiction. His sister, Georgina, followed him to the Philippines, where she met and married a sugar baron, Javier Altarejos. While working on a strenuous road-building project, Ben recovers from his dependency. Javier, taking pity, hires Ben to cut sugarcane and live on his hacienda. However, the nightmares haven’t left Ben. Most of the residents on the plantation ignore Ben’s nightly howling, but Javier’s cousin, Allegra, an attractive 22-year-old woman, steals away at night from the main casa to Ben’s hut to calm him and prepare soothing hot chocolate, which he relishes. Soon, their nocturnal rendezvous lead to love and talk of marriage. Yet it’s not only Allegra’s family’s objections that they have to surmount; Ben’s wartime past also threatens to break them apart.
This second novel in Jennifer Hallock’s The Sugar Sun Trilogy is an interesting recounting of what is usually referred to as the Philippine Insurrection, and sometimes called America’s “First Vietnam.” It’s an important series since it seems this war, and the reasons for it, have been overshadowed by other major conflicts that followed. The author’s firsthand experiences, having lived and worked in the Philippines, show in the narrative. The novel’s cast of characters includes most of the archipelago’s ethnic residents: Filipinos, Spanish, Americans, Mestizos, and even the Moros (Muslims). The strong romantic involvement between the lead characters keeps us engrossed in the story while the evocative descriptions of cuisine, flora, fauna, and life on sugar plantations and in villages and towns, play in our mind. The historical aspects are well blended into the plot. Highly recommended.