Angels Make Their Hope Here
In 1849, young Dossie Bird’s loved ones send her off from slavery and onto the Underground Railroad’s uncertain fate. The little girl doesn’t make it to safety, but rather lands with a heartless northern couple. They work her more than they feed her, and will doubtlessly sell her back South. That’s when Duncan Smoot, who was to have been the next conductor on her journey, burns the couple’s home down and saves Dossie, bringing her back to his own hidden, backwoods New Jersey mixed-race community. Duncan, his sister and her husband, his nephews, his mistress, and others embrace the likeable girl. Dossie comes to love these people, and falls in love with Duncan too, hoping he will take her as his wife once she’s old enough.
But America, even Yankee New Jersey, is a wretchedly dangerous place for the counter-culture villagers, who know they can only depend upon each other and their ability to kill before being killed. The violence inevitably comes, and Dossie must flee to New York with one of Duncan Smoot’s nephews, a handsome man her own age. New York, with its Irish riots against President Abraham Lincoln’s conscription orders, proves a dangerous haven.
Clarke’s third book is a page-turner. She skillfully illuminates both the grime and shine of the age (both moral and physical) as her characters come to life. No character is perfect; no one is a victim. They hurt one another and save one another. I was frustrated here and there by language that ran by like a too-fast river, leaving me not always understanding a particular phrase. That was more than balanced by the story’s satisfying fullness of characters and their actions. Recommended.