This was a slow burn, explosion, and slow burn again. As you can see from the book summary, it tells the story of the Homestead Strike against Carnegie Steel and the apocalypse that followed. My high school American history teacher did his master’s thesis on the depression of 1893, so we all heard about it every once in a while, and I was not surprised about the bleak conditions in this story. At the same time, it really explored the cracks and details of the nightmare of life after the Industrial Revolution had dug its roots into the backs of the poor of the world.
I am not a girl who loves historical fiction, to be honest, and some of the dialogue, like with any historical fiction, threw me off in this one. I’m going to get out my historical fiction critique early, and then tell you later why I did really like the story. In here, for example, Thomas had a lot of “Golly gee, Mom! Do I hafta?” type of dialogue – a Leave it to Beaver
or Brady Bunch
sort of feeling – that I questioned as to its accuracy to the period. The only thing I can think of to compare it to is Dickens, and I feel like his urchins always speak very properly, like small adults, or they do not speak at all. It was my impression that was the norm for children in the late part of the nineteenth century, but I could easily be wrong. And, honestly, I don’t even really care, but I just wonder about it while I’m reading. Part of the point is that I don’t just let myself go with this genre, but I’m constantly wondering about accuracy. If something obviously plays fast and loose with accuracy, I’m fine, and I can let it go, but if it aims for accuracy, I get all distracted.
Still on the dialogue, in this book, and this is true for any historical fiction I have ever read, there was a lot of information to get across about the time period, and often people did it in dialogue. I always wonder about this because it assumes on some level that the characters within the story are as ignorant of the time period, or some aspect of the time period, as I am. For example, I feel like there is often something like, “That reminds me about how in France this year the most successful crop was the turnip, they made a lot of revenue from imports of spices, and there was an internal political struggle about whether men should wear leggings.” And, I’m always sitting here, whispering to other characters, “Weren’t we talking about what to have for dinner? Does this guy sound as douchey to you as he does to me?” But, no one in historical fiction thinks that guy is douchey. They’re all like, “Oh, that was very informative! I was not aware of that.” So I am alone in my distraction. And I get why that happens and that it seems like often part of the point of historical fiction, and what people like about it. You either have a character pass on info through dialogue, or you have a long exposition on the history from the narrator. I can see moving it to dialogue because otherwise it's more similar to reading historical non-fiction. It’s just my own personal hang up and preference for reading history in the form of non-fiction, I think.
So, that is my general struggle with historical fiction, and this was no exception, but this was still a lovely story. I thought the way the battle played out, where really it was the poor on both sides of the battle being manipulated by the rich, was really, really beautiful. And, oh man, I love Eirwen and Gwyn’s family a lot. And their relationship was really vivid. They totally crushed me. Also, I thought it was so sweet how Emlyn and Sarah’s relationship developed. I liked that it didn’t totally rely on unspoken sexual tension throughout, but that it developed more naturally, and when they liked each other, they just did. Really pretty. Particularly once this story got to the battle, I was so there with it. It was great.
Ugh, and OMG, Carrie made me so mad!
This was one of those experiences for me where there was a certain part, maybe between 20-30% and 50% on my Kindle, where I felt like a lot of the fat could be trimmed, especially from Emlyn’s angst about the ministry – like, we get it kid: you don’t want to be a preacher. Solution: just don’t preach, but you don’t have to yell at everybody about it! Flashbacks of the fifth Harry Potter
book. But, then, at the end, I kind of wondered if most of that wasn’t useful. It ultimately seemed like it made the slow, crushing burn at the end more valuable. In retrospect, I think I like the angst.
Favorite parts: the horses, the battle (particularly the discussion about wealth and defense of property), and Emlyn’s dreams.
I was going to talk for a little while about how the second half of this book is such a beautiful illustration of why calculation of wealth needs to be based on more than just money, but also things like health, environment, and education. I guess I’ll just leave it at that, though. This is why calculation of wealth needs to change.
Particularly if you don’t have my distractions about historical fiction, this is a really great read. I totally cried, and I am maybe a medium-frequency crier.
This book was provided to me by the publisher. Ceridwen’s mom wrote it, and both Ceridwen and her mom are rad ladies. I tried to keep my head on my shoulders while I wrote this, but, you know, I imagine I am probably both too harsh and not harsh enough because of my personal affection for these folks. SIGH! So, I'm sorry for my unreliability all around!