Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Most of this novel is buildup to John Brown’s historic raid on the Harper’s Ferry armory in 1859.  Some reviewers have made this book sound entertaining, but for me it was anything but.  Henry Shackleford is the young narrator—a slave whose father dies in a barroom skirmish initiated by John Brown, who mistakes Henry for a girl.  For the next 300+ pages, Henry, always in a dress but gender-neutrally nicknamed Onion, accompanies John Brown in his Midwestern crusade to recruit an army of abolitionists.  Then nothing much happens, until Onion goes to Virginia to help prepare for the raid and “hive” the slaves into Brown’s rebellion.  If ever there was a book with too much dialog and not enough action, this is it.  As a history lesson, it has value, but the arduous task of reading it was a tedious undertaking.  I think I could have read the beginning and the end and not missed anything.  The most interesting aspect of this novel to me was the choice of a boy in a dress as the narrator.  This case of mistaken gender, which morphs into more of a ruse, allows the narrator to view most of the action without actually participating.  Then my question is why didn’t the author just make the narrator a girl, but perhaps he felt more comfortable with a male narrator who never actually has to wield a weapon.  The bottom line is that the editor of this book should have recommended shaving about 200 pages from the finished product. 

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