19 October 2012
Review: All Things New by Lynn Austin
In the closing days of the American Civil War, the inhabitants of Richmond, Virginia, are packing up their belongings to flee for their lives in advance of the invading Yankee army. Josephine Weatherly of White Oak Plantation, aged 22, has lost her father, her brother, and her faith in God during the war. Her mother, Eugenia, has lost an entire way of life and must work out how to hold her home and family together in this new world. Lizzie was a slave the plantation who is now free, but has no idea what that means.
All Things New is written in the third person, alternating between the viewpoints of these three characters. I immediately liked Jo and Lizzie, but found Eugenia very annoying. She was naïve, expecting everything to return to how it was before the war, although I did come to admire the way she slowly began to think and act for herself, rather than relying on the old ways.
Josephine tries to look to a realistic future, not the dream future her mother imagines. She wants to learn some practical skills, like cooking and gardening, that will help them survive in a world without slaves, but has to fight her mother at every turn over her doing work that is ‘beneath her’. She meets a Northern soldier, a Quaker, who challenges her views on God, and faces danger as he challenges the racist views of her Southern neighbours. This was probably the best part of the story.
There is more than a little ingrained racism in Eugenia’s attitudes, and those of several of her friends, as well as in the young men who survived the war. Modern readers are likely to find these attitudes offensive. But that was the reality of life for her, all she had ever known. All Things New holds a challenge for interracial relations that is as valid and potentially as important now as it was in 1866, and addresses these issues well, without descending into cliché, crusading or preaching (although this is clearly a Christian novel).
Lynn Austin's previous Civil War series (Refiner's Fire)told the story of the War Between The States from the point of view of a Southern woman, a Northern woman and a slave, and the books were outstanding (if you haven't read them, then do. Two of the three won Christy Awards). All Things New was good, but not great. The writing was excellent, but was let down by too many characters, too many subplots and not enough romance. I thought the three points of view were almost trying to do too much: perhaps this would have been better as three separate books.
Thanks to Baker Publishing and Netgalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lynn Austin at her website.