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American Civil War
In a Time Never Known is a fictional account of different people’s lives during the American Civil War. Author Kat Michels presents the reader with characters from differing walks of life and with differing attitudes to the war and its outcome. Woven within their stories is a web of espionage: within this web are complex threads of conflicting loyalties and romantic love. The story begins in a somewhat light manner, but then, as characters develop the story deepens and broadens.
Anna, a young woman from the North, is married against her will to a plantation owner, Andrew Bell. He is the stereotypical white Southern male of the period; he abuses his slaves and his wife, and shows no affection for anyone or anything save his spoilt daughter Kady, who grows into a crinoline princess of the worst kind. Anna, however, finds a meaning for her life when the man with whom she is secretly (very dangerously) conducting an affair recruits her into a spy ring for the North. The novel wobbles a little here, for Anna seems oblivious to the risks she is running and when her daughter insists she too become a spy there are long and loud conversations about it in Bell’s house. But from this point on the story becomes more convincing. We see Kady’s growth, firstly into a reckless do-gooder, then a brave woman risking her life to get messages to Union generals, as a means of ending the tragedy of this war.
The story is not just about Anna and Kady, however, it is also about Kady’s two husbands (no explanation here for it would be a spoiler), especially Thomas Henry, who is a complex Southern soldier, tormented by the deaths he has caused. We also follow Emma, who sees Thomas Henry saving her baby brother and initially believes him to be a hero. When she learns it was he who killed her family she sets out to get revenge.
Along with these characters there are numerous others, all of whom have inter-connected stories. In this respect, Michels’ novel is compelling reading, but it does get a little confusing at times and a list of characters at the beginning would have helped. Confusion is also caused by similar sounding names, and a slightly random use of first and second names: Thomas Henry is called both Thomas and Henry by his wife, and he has a companion called Tom; at another point I mixed up Anna and Emma, too.
Nevertheless, this is an intriguing account of the lives slaves and plantation owners, unexpected spies and long-suffering, always hungry, soldiers. Ultimately, one hopes there will be a happy ending for them but Michels has stuck to real events and the regrettable outcome of all wars, and while there is closure and a better future for some, nobody escapes unscathed.
In a time Never Known is a well-written, well-researched historical novel and I recommend it to anyone interested in the American Civil War, and those who enjoy a family saga. This novel is not set against the panoramic background of Gone With the Wind – indeed, a lot of the action occurs in the Dismal Swamp, which is crawling with all manner of venomous snakes – but it is a ‘big book’ and a satisfying, albeit not always easy read. Kat Michels is an author to follow.
© J.G. Harlond
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