John Dickinson’s Quaker father, Daniel, hated slavery (his story is told in Spalding’s earlier novel, The Purchase). Now it’s 1855, and, as civil war looms on the horizon, both John and his half-brother Benjamin are slave owners. They are facing a reckoning that each is unprepared for.
When a stranger, an abolitionist from Canada, arrives in the brothers’ community and secretly encourages slaves to flee to freedom in the north, many do so. Soon there are too few workers to bring in the harvest and keep the farm running.
Because he’s a preacher, John’s congregation looks up to him, despite the fact that he’s often harsh and domineering. They know nothing of his secret sin, a transgression that will shape his future. When his family comes to the brink of financial ruin, John encourages them, as well as his congregants, to form a wagon train and head west to settle. But in a rash decision, John stays behind, sending his wife and children on without him. Each is forced to grow in unexpected ways.
This novel for adults is filled with biblical allusions and covers vast territory. Physically, characters navigate rivers, forests, and grasslands. Emotionally, each faces inner fears, inadequacies, sins, prejudices, and his or her own need for redemption. Spalding skillfully relates the intersecting realities of enslaved and free blacks, whites, and Native Americans as each tries to survive in difficult circumstances. (McClelland & Stewart)