Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Accidents of Providence

Summary: Rachel Lockyer is under investigation for murder.

It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell's army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of political agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and “lewd women” presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.

Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and William Walwyn, Leveller hero, are locked in a secret affair. But while William is imprisoned in the Tower, a child is found buried in the woods and Rachel is arrested.

So comes an investigation, public trial, and a cast of extraordinary characters made up of ordinary Londoners: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lilburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, a lawyer for the prosecution hell-bent on making an example of Rachel, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.

Accidents of Providence is absorbing historical fiction for fans of Fingersmith and The Dress Lodger. And Rachel Lockyer, a woman wronged by her time, is a character neither history, nor we, will ever again forget. -- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I haven't been reading a lot of historical fiction lately, but ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE by Stacia M. Brown caught my attention. At its simplest, ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE takes place in the mid 1600s in England and tells the story of Rachel, a woman who is on trial for murdering her newborn baby. However, this stunning historical novel encompasses so much more. There is a combination of true life and fictional characters, and a perfect blend of fact and fiction; however, all of these details read as if they are still relevant today. It truly is historical fiction at its best!

While ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE is really Rachel's story, it also brings to light a faction that is fighting for equal rights called The Levellers, as well as a look into a law that presumes murder for concealing the death of an illegitimate baby. In addition, it stars larger-than-life characters, and there's even a beautiful love affair between Rachel and a controversial Leveller named William. I was amazed by just how much the author accomplished in a relatively short book by historical fiction standards -- around 250 pages.

I found Rachel and her dilemma to be very interesting, and I loved seeing how she was torn between her love for a man and her possible crime and punishment. Another thing that definitely kept me turning the pages was the mystery surrounding her story. I couldn't get my finger on her actions or her motivations, and since she chose not to defend herself publicly, I was just fascinated by her character. Of course, I was also curious to discover the mystery of the events surrounding the death of her baby and whether she was guilty of a crime.

I was so impressed with Ms. Brown's writing, and it's hard for me to believe that this is her debut novel. She has graduate degrees in religion and historical theology from Emory University, and I think her roots in the study of history were apparent in this story. However, she also has some serious skills as a storyteller. She merged fact with fiction to create a intriguing and suspenseful story, and she vividly brought to life London in the mid 1600s. What might have impressed me the most, though, was how tight the story was. The novel wasn't very long and I felt as if every word was there for a reason.

I think there is a great deal to discuss in ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE for book clubs, especially those made up of women. There is an excellent reading guide with fifteen questions that should help as conversation starters. Some of the themes you might want to explore include women's rights, religion, politics, motherhood, love, sacrifice, hypocrisy, and passion. Personally, I like the question that asks readers to compare the infant-murder trials of early modern England to the witch hunts of colonial North America; and I think the title of the novel is interesting to discuss as well.

ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE was a fantastic read that had a little bit of everything. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


Beth F said...

Oh gosh, this sounds good. I'm going to have to find a copy.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Hey this might be the one for me! It seems like most historical fiction are huge doorstops. I rarely read this genre and I wonder if that is why? Hmmm. Anyway, when I read reviews like this, I wish I DID read more of historical fiction.

Serena said...

Cromwell's period is one I like to read about. So ripe with controversy and upheaval. Thanks for the review.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

This one sounds like a book I would really enjoy since I love historical fiction. The fact that it's also suspenseful has intrigued me. Great review! The book cover is gorgeous too.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I just love how you always link to the reader's guides. I can't believe after all this time of reading your blog I always forget to check myself when I read a book! :--)

Beth Hoffman said...

I don't recall of hearing about this book before. Terrific review, Julie!

bermudaonion said...

Most of the members of my book club love historical fiction. I wonder if I can get them to read this.

Alyce said...

I hadn't heard of this book or that law before, but I could see the comparison with witch hunts. The shortness of it does appeal to me too. :)

Anonymous said...

I have a copy of this on my kindle. I am glad I read your review because I had forgotten how badly I wanted to read it.