Release date: January 10, 2017
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
A decent historical fiction read set during the Civil War and told mostly in letters.
The Long Of It:
"The Second Mrs. Hockaday" is an engaging epistolary novel set in South Carolina during and after the Civil War. It centers on an unspeakable incident, a fated romance and the changes wrought by war, both for those on the battlefield and those left at home.
Placidia is still a teenager when she is forced to make a life-changing, spur-of-the-moment decision to marry a man she barely knows, Major Gryffyth Hockaday. There's an undeniable connection between them, but will that be enough to sustain their relationship when, after just two nights together, Major Hockaday is called back to the front?
Placidia is abruptly left to manage the farm and servants, care for the major's infant son by his first wife, and fend off all manner of nefarious men looking to take advantage of a young woman on her own. Things take an unfortunate turn, which the major finds out when he returns home to hear whispers of a heinous crime his young bride committed during his two long years away.
The story is told in letters, diary entries and inquest transcripts, both in the 1860s by Placidia and in the 1890s, after her death, when her son discovers her Civil War journal. With some surprises along the way, the two timelines race toward the same conclusion -- what is the truth behind Placidia's alleged crime?
Rivers' tale is drawn from a variety of true events and real people, and it paints a stark portrait of perhaps the darkest time in America's history -- humans as property, brothers killing brothers, and the scummiest depths of human nature. It was an intriguing, sometimes intense story, but it ends on a hopeful note, and Placidia's perseverance and courage throughout are admirable. I thought the epistolary format was a brilliant decision by Rivers, and after I got used to her writing style I enjoyed it. It wasn't a perfect book, but if you like historical fiction or novels about strong women, it's definitely worth a look!
*I received a free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.