This third volume of a mid-19th-century family saga, set on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Maryland, focuses on a vital addition to a private fleet.
It is 1843, and Benjamin and Sonja Pulaski have won the salvage rights to the schooner Raven, a former slave ship. They have settled in a rented house in Lapidum, facing the canal that runs along the river, just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, separating slave-state Maryland from free-state Pennsylvania. The Raven is a substantial addition to Ben’s fleet of three barges, and the vessel will prove to be a dangerous turning point in the couple’s lives. When the new manager of a bank, at the direction of the villainous Lydia Binterfield, issues the Pulaskis an eviction order, they are forced to move to the nearby town of Havre de Grace. They take up temporary residence in “the Pink House,” run by the irrepressible widow Mamie Stewart. Now that he is the owner of an ocean-worthy ship, Ben can expand his cargo service, leaving the barges for coal runs along the canals and the Chesapeake while he and Sonja use the Raven to convey sugar, rum, and mercantile items to and from the Carolinas. They can also transport rescued slaves and kidnapped blacks to the North. Ben, who had previously hidden a few runaway slaves in his barges, now enters a complicated and treacherous business. Lackey’s (Blood on the Chesapeake, 2016, etc.) series successfully combines nautical adventures with multiple personal dramas while sharply examining the blight of slavery. The novel’s depiction of the increasing hostilities between slave owners and abolitionists serves as a graphic harbinger of the Civil War, still almost two decades away. In contrast to the more violent aspects of the tale is the tender rebuilding of the relationship between Ben and Sonja, each still haunted by traumatic experiences from the earlier volumes. Lackey’s attention to historical details—the process of moving the barges through the canal locks, and the specifics of meals and clothing—deftly brings the era to life. And a few real plot surprises keep the narrative lively.
Engaging action on both land and sea with well-drawn characters.