In this fourth series installment, Lackey (Raven’s Risk, 2017, etc.) continues tracing the joys, losses, and adventures of a nautical family that lives beside a canal near the Susquehanna River.
In January 1844, Ben and Sonja Pulaski and the crew of the Raven return to Georgetown, South Carolina, fleeing the wrath of local plantation owner Jeremiah Williamson, with slaves, rescued from Maryland, hidden belowdeck. The narrative opens with the closing chapter of Raven’s Risk, and once the former slaves have been transferred to the next ship in their escape to the North, the Raven returns to her home port in Havre de Grace, Maryland, where she remains until March. Sonja, needing some breathing room, leaves to visit her father for the winter; younger son Aaron is refitting one of their barges and has acquired a new one to add to the growing fleet; older son Isaac is attending West Point in New York state. When Ben’s next assignment brings him back to Georgetown in March, Jeremiah has him kidnapped and brought to the plantation, and he challenges him to a pistol duel. The narrative continues until late 1847, with the Raven sailing into the Gulf of Mexico to deliver supplies to the military and to ferry injured soldiers to New Orleans during the Mexican War. The longer time span of this volume results in a more hurried presentation of events than in the previous one. Occasionally, it covers entire seasons in just a few paragraphs. However, the author pays satisfying attention to the increasingly complicated personal dramas; Ben and Sonja remain complex characters who still bear the scars of earlier difficulties. This sequel can be read as a stand-alone slice of history, with its graphic descriptions of the extraordinary cruelty of slavery and the brutality of war. The personal stories, however, will be best appreciated by those who are already familiar with the previous books. Such fans will also be pleased that another sequel is in the works.
An action-packed period piece with two fully developed central characters and a strong supporting cast.