What’s your favorite genre? I’m partial to young adult books, but I’ll read just about anything. One of my favorite authors is Ann Rinaldi. She writes young adult historical fiction novels and got me hooked on historical fiction pretty early on. Most of the HF I buy has to do with Shakespeare or early modern England, but what else would you expect from someone with a master’s in Shakespeare? Loren DeShon contacted Hazard Editing few weeks ago looking for someone to critique his HF novel, Redemption on the River, and I was pleased to accept the assignment.
Redemption on the River takes place in 1848 on the Missouri river. The story follows roughly eight months in the life of a young man named Silas as he travels up and down the river. Have you ever noticed that the worst times of your life are the most dramatic? The most interesting stories usually come out situations that cause deep pain. That’s certainly true for Silas. His life prior to this book was spent on the family farm, moving through life rather uneventfully, getting by and following the normal course for a man in his town. Then, after a freak accident, he knows it’s time to leave the farm and escape the memories haunting him there.
The problem with that idea, as I’m sure you know, is that memories never stay where you put them. Silas gets on a riverboat, makes some friends, and learns about splurging in the “big city.” His friends have his back as he learns to fight and uses those skills to save his life. He meets a family with a beautiful daughter that takes his breath away, usually when she’s berating him. Every time he thinks he has a bead on the people around him, he finds out he’s wrong. So much happens to Silas that I’ve barely scratched the surface summarizing the plot of Redemption on the River, but I don’t want to give away too much. What you really need to know about this book is that it’s good.
One of the things that impressed me the most was the obvious research DeShon put into his story. Silas learns to gamble on the riverboats, so the reader learns to gamble to. I may know the basic rules of poker, but I surely don’t know what playing poker was like on a riverboat in 1848. I don’t know how DeShon found the sources for his research, but he covered everything from how to play to how to cheat. He wove in “suckers” and slang, bringing the gambling rooms to life in my mind. I could smell the smoke and the fear of the slaves brought up from the hold as collateral for their master’s bets. He wrote in dialects so that I could hear the difference between the rich Southern gentlemen and the polished Brit, the slave and the mountain man. He even included real historical figures and challenged me to find them. I’ll admit that I failed at finding most of them, but maybe you’ll have better luck.
Unlike most books, Redemption on the River doesn’t have a cheap ending. There’s no “happily ever after” or tying up of loose ends. Yes, some of the loose ends get tied up, but, like in real life, the most important ones are left hanging. All you get to know is that Silas makes a choice and takes the first step to follow it. I love epilogues, but I didn’t miss it in this book. I liked knowing that his story was longer than the last page of the book.
Redemption on the River hasn’t been published yet, but I look forward to seeing it for sale. When it is, go buy it. Even if you’re not crazy about historical fiction, Silas’ story is entertaining, full of danger, love, questions of morality, and gambling. The only thing missing is a Fire Swamp full of Rodents Of Unusual Size.