Necessary Sins (Lazare Family Saga)

Written by Elizabeth Bell
Review by Nicole Evelina

This sweeping historical saga tells the first installment of the story of the Lazares, a sugar plantation-owning family in Haiti who endure a slave uprising only to have their own mixed-race past dog them through their flight into the American South. Most of the novel centers on the story of Catholic priest Joseph Lazare and his unique position as a black man in antebellum South Carolina, where his vocation is encouraged while others of his race are held down in slavery. Complicating matters are his complex feelings towards one of his parishioners, an Irish immigrant named Tessa. While questions of race and class swirl around him, temptation roils within, threatening to shatter his vows and topple his carefully-built life, impacting all around him.

Necessary Sins is a rare breed of book, invoking family epics of the past such as The Thorn Birds and Gone with the Wind. The writing is poetic and filled with emotion that truly makes the reader feel the characters’ struggles, even and perhaps especially when those quandaries are uncomfortable. This authenticity, combined with meticulous research and attention to detail, renders a vivid world that truly feels like stepping back in time. Elizabeth Bell is an amazingly talented writer who is not afraid to grapple with weighty moral and ethical issues in a way true to the time period and its characters. Given this is her debut novel, Bell is poised to become one of the next big names in historical fiction. Extremely highly recommended — and the sequel is very impatiently anticipated!