When Anakata is kidnapped from her remote African village and brought to colonial America as a slave, she must figure out how to survive while holding on to her ancient matriarchal religion in this debut novel.
Thirteen-year-old Anakata is an exalted figure in her African village; she has been chosen since birth to be her people’s queen. But when she falls prey to slave traders, she ends up on a ship bound for the New World. After an arduous voyage, which saw sickness, death and rebellion, the ship arrives in Virginia. There, she is sold to the Carter family and told this is a good thing, as they treat their slaves well (excusing the maiming of a slave who tried to escape too often, of course). Young Anakata is renamed Anna and becomes a housemaid, eventually developing a special connection to the plantation’s mistress and children. As she acclimates to life in the colonies, Anna tries to keep as much of her old life alive as possible: sneaking off to visit her secret shrine by the water, performing rituals from her past and harboring dreams of finding a way back to Africa. All the while, she is told things will be easier if she assimilates, including becoming a good Christian. In this first book in a trilogy, Frank does a smart job introducing an intelligent, likable and compassionate protagonist in Anna. While most of the secondary characters help make the world in which they live three dimensional—particularly Anna’s love interest, Gabriel, and her main mentors, Esther and Sukey—at times they fall short. This is especially evident with the relatively benign rendering of the slave-holding Carters. While there are individual scenes of brutality (notably in the voyage) and villainy (a house guest attempts to kidnap Anna away from the Carters), the absolute drudgery of life as a slave seems diminished.
Frank does an admirable job of painting a slave narrative, though there may be a bit too much of a shiny gloss painted on plantation life.