Historical Novel Society Review: Editors Choice —A Tangled Mercy
A Tangled Mercy
WRITTEN BY JOY JORDAN-LAKE
Past and present meld together in this absolutely riveting novel, based on a real-life slave revolt plot in pre-Civil War Charleston, South Carolina. The story is told in alternating voices, with the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as the center of much of the action, both past, and present.
Weeks after her mother’s death, a grief-stricken Kate Drayton suddenly walks out of a lecture she is giving at Harvard, leaving her career as an historian in the balance. She drives to Charleston, determined to learn more about her late, estranged father, and find out why her mother was obsessed with a secretly plotted 1822 slave rebellion. When she comes to town, determined to get to the truth, she meets and befriends several locals whose significance will prove to be life-changing.
In 1822, Tom Russell, a slave with a blacksmith trade, is a reluctant part of the famed Denmark Vesey planned uprising, making and surreptitiously delivering weapons. His love for the slave girl, Dinah, is the force that drives him forward.
The novel, part mystery, and part history is a winning combination. Although the story of Tom Russell is a necessary part of the plot, I favored the present-day storyline, as I was intrigued by Kate’s journey to unmask family secrets. It is also a love story—a love of family and of place. The city of Charleston is as integral to the plot as the characters themselves.
The author poignantly weaves in another real-life tragic event that also occurred in Charleston, connecting the past and present, a commentary on the racial divide that still exists despite the passage of 200 years. A novel of secrets, racial tensions, family, and a love that withstands the passage of time, A Tangled Mercy is truly enthralling.