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  Historical Fiction Review   


Candle in the Darkness
By Lynn Austin
Bethany House, 2002
Trade paper, $12.99 (431 pages)
ISBN : 1-55661-436-5

Set in Virginia during the Civil War, Candle in the Darkness, is the story of a young woman who learns to follow her conscience rather than social norms.

Caroline Fletcher is privileged. George, her father, grew up at Hilltop, one of the largest plantations outside of Richmond. As the youngest son in the family, he works "on the business side of things," managing the warehouses and shipping whatever crops are grown at Hilltop during the year.  There are rumors within the family that he imports coffee from South American and trades with Europe, earning "tainted money" his family won't touch. He spends his money freely on his household, providing himself, his wife, and his daughter with slaves who serve their every need. 

Caroline's mother, a former Richmond belle, spends most of her time sequestered in her room. Her multiple miscarriages have left her distraught and prone to "crying spells." Consequently, Caroline's upbringing has been entrusted to the family slaves -- her mammy, Tessie; her mother's mammy, Ruby; and the cook Esther. 

Grady, Tessie's son, is the same age as Caroline and they've been allowed to play together. When Caroline witnesses and is unable to stop the two strangers putting Grady into leg chains and taking him away to market, she begins to question her parents and the slaves. Many of their answers are in direct conflict with what she's been taught at the worship services she attends with her parents.

Fearing Caroline is becoming too shy and lacking in social skills because of her interaction with the slaves, her parents send her to the Richmond Female Academy. Eli, the slave who drives her to and from school every day, also serves as the "preacher" for the surrounding plantations. His gentle manner and platitudes offer Caroline moral sustenance and plant the seeds for the abolitionist she becomes.

Lynn Austen has written a dramatic novel about what it means to stand alone despite the tenor of the times. A former teacher, the author now spends her time writing and speaking. She won a 2002 Christy Award in the Historical Fiction category for her novel Hidden Places. Her other novels include: Candle in the Darkness, Eve’s Daughter, and Wings of Refuge. She lives with her husband in Illinois.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews


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