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ARC Book Review: ‘The Abolitionist’s Daughter’ by Diane C. McPhail

Title: The Abolitionist’s Daughter

Author: Diane C. McPhail

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: John Scognamiglio Books


I saw this book on Netgalley and just had to request it, as it sounds like a book I would love, but did it match my expectations?

On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily’s companion and often her conscience – and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan’s family arrives at the Matthews farm. A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear the two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily’s mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily – sheltered all her life – is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.

‘No, Miss Emily, I ain’t special. I tell you who special. Them black folk breaking they backs out there in the sun to make a life for themselves out of leftovers, they the folk who special.’

I did have high expectations for this book, because I really do love Historical Fiction, and it had some good reviews. There were some parts of the story I really liked, and others not so much. Here’s why:

The three main characters in ‘The Abolitionist’s Daughter’ were the best thing in the book, although I had my problems with the amount of characters, these three were the highlight. I liked Emily, and her story was really interesting. From being the judges daughter to someone’s wife, then running a farm on her own. I found myself really rooting for her. Adeline, was another good character I found myself caring for. Then Ginny, who I simply needed more of. I wanted to know more about her. She was so wise, she was the real heart of the book. I just needed more detailed point of views from the slaves perspectives.

The plot was good, although it sometimes felt a tad rushed. It seemed to jump forward in time with a single sentence. It sometimes made me go ‘What year is it now?’. It had a couple of twists in, the first genuinely shocked and I think that’s alway a good thing. It means as a reader, I’m involved in the story. The second one however, was pretty obvious and it didn’t have any resolution.

This book is set in a time I find both fascinating and horrific. I always think this setting makes for such good reading because authors can intertwine the harrowing truth with some really gripping, emotive fiction. This book didn’t quite manage that. It just missed the mark.

I believe a book like this has a duty to show how appalling things were, to show some real truth and this book doesn’t, for me, get deep enough. It’s a bit light hearted. Shallow. It needed more grit, more feeling, more detail. It needed to show the hardship of the time. Everything felt a bit glazed over.

Maybe it was the fact that it changed character perspectives, to so many different characters that you couldn’t get a real sense of everyone. It really did have a lot of characters in. I often had to double check who I was reading about and was often reminding myself who a certain character was. I think it would of been better with less characters, and more in-depth personalities on the ones we did have. I just find it hard that it’s a book about Civil War and slavery and you’re reading about the problems of a white woman.

This is a strange book to review because although I had my problems with this book, I would recommend it. I enjoyed it, I read it quickly, even found hard to put down. It just needed more. Maybe my expectations were just too high?

I was given a copy of this book from Netgalley and John Scognamiglio Books in return for an honest review. It comes out on April 30th and you can preorder it now.

Until the next review


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