A young indentured servant in pre–Revolutionary War Massachusetts escapes her brutal master and begins a new life on Cape Cod in Gunning’s sequel to her well-received The Widow’s War (2006).
Seven-year-old Alice Cole’s destitute father sells her into indentured servitude and disappears from her life in 1756, as soon as they arrive in Boston after a harrowing passage from London. Mr. Morton is a benevolent master and his daughter Nabby becomes Alice’s friend. When Nabby marries, Alice, now 15, goes with Nabby to complete her last three years of servitude. But because pre-Revolutionary law states that a husband owns everything his wife brings to the marriage, Nabby’s husband, Mr. Verley, now owns Alice. Verley is a monster of barely believable proportions, raping Alice repeatedly while making sure Nabby knows and grows jealous. After a vicious beating that leaves her cheek scarred, Alice escapes. She stows away on a ship to Cape Cod, where she is taken in by the plucky, generous widow Liddy Berry. Liddy’s boarder Eben Freeman is a lawyer, deeply involved in fighting the unfair taxes Britain has begun imposing on the colonies. Liddy and Alice begin a weaving business to replace imported British cloth. Readers of Gunning’s earlier book will know that Liddy and Eben have more than a friendship going, but Alice has no clue. When Alice realizes Verley impregnated her, she tries, unsuccessfully, to hide her condition. When her baby dies shortly after birth, Alice is charged with murder and fornication. Eben helps clear her, but she then must face charges in Boston as a runaway slave. Alice is a mix of conniving and innocence, and her relationship with Liddy and Eben has intriguing undertones, but the lesser characters remain caricatures.
Painting in broader strokes this time around, Gunning never adequately integrates her history lesson with the sexual intrigue.