Always and Forever
Behind this novel’s nondescript title and cover art lies one of the most entertaining historical novels I’ve read in a while. The powerful opening scene captured me immediately. On a Creole plantation in 1823 Louisiana, five-year-old Josie’s father, Emile Tassin, uses his wife’s pearls to buy back his dark-skinned mistress and their daughter from slavers. To protect young Cleo from his jealous wife from that point forward, Emile makes Josie promise to take good care of her half-sister. Over the next 15 years, Josie tries to keep her vow, but she’s not always successful.
Josie and Cleo grow up together, mistress and slave, although Josie remains ignorant of their blood connection. Adolescence, personal tragedies, and financial crises etch new lines onto their personalities. Characters always carry the heart of a saga, and I became fully involved with lives of Josie, Cleo, and their families. Despite the closed little world she inhabits, Josie remains a good person, and as she matures, she adjusts her relationships with everyone around her. These include her sharp-eyed Grand-mère, Emmeline, who struggles to teach Josie how to run a plantation; handsome Phanor, whose poor Cajun heritage makes him an unacceptable suitor; and her elegant second cousin, Bertrand, whose sensuality attracts her, but whose roving eye follows Cleo.
Though labelled as a romance, this is really a family saga in the grand old style, told by a master storyteller. The setting is vividly described, from the sugar cane crops and wild honeysuckle on the Tassins’ plantation to the nightclubs, velvet evening gowns, and deadly yellow fever in antebellum New Orleans. Racial issues, always at the forefront, are handled realistically and perceptively. I can’t say how much I enjoyed visiting with Craig’s fascinating and believable characters; while I was reading, the hours flew by. Highly recommended.