By: Rosemary Nichols
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: August 2021
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: October 5, 2021
High principles vie with low morals, love and respect triumph over fear and hatred, all tangled in the lives of an extended family in pre-Civil War America. Rosemary Nichols’ tale combines tender empathy and life-threatening peril, seen through the eyes of a curious young girl.
It is September 1860. Thirteen-year-old Amaranda Van der Peyster is beginning studies at an exclusive academy, concerned about her limited grasp of algebra, when tragedy enters her formerly comfortable life, and suddenly, only a few crucial matters will beg her attention. Her Aunt Alice has lost her adopted children, the dark-skinned twins Carl and Hannah, who, having prospered and developed through their new family connections, were on their way from Albany to begin college at Oberlin when they simply disappeared. Overnight Ama and her family are caught up in the search for the twins, with the help of Pinkerton detectives. By exploring every clue and questioning every possible witness, Pinkertons Webster and Wilson will come to learn, and explain to the family, that the two have been kidnapped by someone intending to sell them into slavery. To assist in the search, the Van der Peysters will relocate to Louisiana, where they begin to see the true outlines of the coming armed conflict that not even the election of Abraham Lincoln can prevent.
This fact-charged narrative manages to include a visit to the family’s Baton Rouge-based mansion by General Tecumseh Sherman, who forebodingly expresses his opinion that if there is a war, the South cannot win. The lush life of plantation owners, even the best, most benevolent, is detailed, along with the lives of their slaves, based on the bedrock of historical research. Travel by steamship and dressing for fancy occasions are vividly depicted, along with a solemn funeral and a truly shocking slave auction, all occasions for Ama to observe and learn as she moves toward her fourteenth birthday, on the first day of the fateful year, 1861. Styled as a series, readers will be anticipating the further adventures of this dynamic brood, caught as they must inevitably become in the upheavals of active warfare.
Nichols has written previous historical fiction and finds herself fascinated by the Civil War years. Her diligent attention to the subject is recounted in an “Author’s Note” in which she cites some of the real events, places, and people on which this wide-ranging story is based. Some official particulars of the hunt for the children’s captors come from the author’s solid background in the legal profession. The stealing and selling of free black children were crimes common in the timeframe, and Pinkertons were known not only as detectives but as spies during the building conflict.
Quill says: In total, Nichols has brought the rapidly mounting fires of conflict between North and South in the 1860s to life for a new generation of readers, with a likable young heroine providing focus for the many issues under examination.
For more information on Stolen: Civil War Series, Volume 1, please visit the author's website at: rosemarygailnichols.com