Chevalier’s latest historical fiction, the first set in her native America, circa 1850, is a tepid portrait of an English Quaker thrown into the tumult of Ohio’s Underground Railroad.
After the embarrassment of a broken engagement, Honor Bright decides to accompany her sister to America. Adventurous Grace is to marry fellow Quaker Adam Cox, an acquaintance from their hometown of Bridport, England. On the crossing, Honor suffers from doubt and seasickness, and tragedy befalls Grace. Making her way alone to Adam Cox, Honor stays with Belle Mills, a rough, independent woman who takes pity on Honor. In Belle’s millenary shop, Honor recovers from her journey, is introduced to Belle’s brother Donovan, a slave hunter she feels an inexplicable connection to, and sees what she believes is Belle’s covert involvement in the Underground Railroad. It is acknowledged by all that Honor must find a husband, and soon enough she does, a quiet dairy farmer. Used to English town life, Honor finds that an American farm (and her disapproving mother-in-law) requires some getting used to. When she sees runaway slaves hiding on the farm, she helps in meager ways but soon learns to send them to Mrs. Reed, a freed slave in neighboring Oberlin, a city filled with former slaves and Quakers. When her new family learns of Honor’s involvement, they are furious and insist she stop. In 1850 England and America, Friends (another name for Quakers) are opposed to slavery, but in America, ideals are often compromised when the risk—imprisonment and bankruptcy—is so great. Already emotionally estranged from her new family, Honor isn’t sure where her loyalties lie: to her husband’s family, her Quaker ideals or the ways of her happy English upbringing.
Chevalier’s grasp of history and nuanced detail is quite fine, but all of the blood and tears of the time are made polite and palatable, making quiet Honor’s story a bit too quiet.