In Liberty’s Wake

Written by Alexandra Norland
Review by Steve Donoghue

In Liberty’s Wake, Alexandra Norland’s remarkably accomplished debut novel, takes a familiar theme in American historical fiction – slavery – and moves it to an unfamiliar setting – not the American Civil War, but the American Revolution.

The story opens in 1763 Virginia, on the extensive and luxurious James River plantation of the Alden family, and the narrative unfolds over the next two tumultuous decades, following both the owners of the estate, including strong-willed Arabella Alden, and their slaves, who serve the family while dreaming of a different life.

Norland expertly weaves colonial history into the personal stories of her characters, both real and invented, and as events quickly boil toward outright rebellion against British rule, both masters and slaves are confronted with sharp new realities, including the prospect of taking up arms in defense of the new “self-evident” liberties being declared in Philadelphia but the revolution’s leaders.

Norland steadfastly refuses the temptation to simplify these conflicts, and the result is a tremendously satisfying new take on the American Revolution novel.

Enthusiastically recommended.