Inspired by the Haitian slave uprising led by black general Toussaint L’Ouverture, Gabriel, a literate Virginia slave and blacksmith, attempts to parallel that effort on his own turf.
Gabriel and Thomas Henry Prosser, the master’s son, were raised together since both were nursed at Gabriel’s mother’s breast, Gabriel rarely getting his fair share. But the power dynamics of slavery fully destroys their relationship as they age, until they are at odds with one another’s goals—Gabriel, hoping to lead his people to freedom in the aftermath of the American Revolution; Thomas, aiming to squelch the effort. Based on a true story of planned rebellion by “Prosser’s Gabriel,” Amateau deftly tucks well-researched period documents into the narrative at opportune moments. Her use of language is both startling (“To Gabriel, Ma’s whip marks resembled the earth between the tobacco hills, newly tilled and ready for planting”) and gratifying (“…he went only to find the girl who could look into his smile and see the deep and secret life inside him”). As an adjunct to classroom study, readers will be drawn in by Gabriel’s determination and motivations, including his devotion to his beloved bride, Nanny. Yet while historically accurate and beautifully written, the plotting ultimately lacks the tension or uncertainty that will drive readers to the finish.
Despite inevitability, an anguished tale told with poetry and heart. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)