A Confederate spy and a Pennsylvania Quaker fall in love during the Civil War.
In this novel, Coopey (Full Circle, 2016, etc.) reimagines the lives of two of her ancestors, drawing on both family lore and historical research to produce a well-rounded story. Carter Willoughby is the only remaining son of a plantation-owning Georgia family. After checking in on his parents and sisters, all suffering from the war, he goes to Pennsylvania in disguise. He pretends to be an “anti-slavery, anti-rebellion Methodist” circuit rider named Mark Randolph while actually planning to destroy a crucial part of the railroad system. In Pennsylvania, he rents a room from Susannah Lander, a Quaker who lives in poverty with an aging aunt while fending off unwanted suitors and fighting for support from her stingy uncle. Susannah challenges Carter’s beliefs about the war, and gradually they move from sparring to friendship to love. After Carter reveals his secret and breaks with the Confederate Army, they marry. Susannah is pregnant when he returns to Georgia at the end of the war. Hoping to settle his family’s estate, he loses the remaining wealth and struggles to return to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Susannah faces trials at home without her husband. Coopey does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction (an author’s note explains the story’s factual basis), and her vivid historical details bring the setting to life. Susannah is a compelling heroine, dealing with problems both realistic and melodramatic in a satisfying way. Coopey never allows readers to forget the bleakness of her life (“I kept up my daily routine of mucking out the barn, pruning fruit trees, planting onions or whatever else was asked of me”). The book’s characters of color remain in distinctly secondary roles. Although Carter’s views on slavery evolve over the course of the narrative, his redemption may be too simplistic for some readers.
An engaging tale about a transplanted Southerner questioning the Confederacy as he pursues a wartime romance.