Redemption on the River by Loren DeShon
Paperback, 390 pages
Published: July 2012 by Loren DeShon
Silas Jacobson pulled a trigger, killed his father, and ended up months later face down in Memphis mud, trying to forget the girl who betrayed him.
Silas buries his father on the farm, his guilt in himself and leaves home seeking to forget past mistakes. He travels on Mississippi steamboats and meets his best friend in a brawl, his worst enemy in a cathouse, and a mentor and lover at a New Orleans faro table. Fighting, fornicating, and cheating at cards are a grand time, but there's another woman, a girl on a mission of her own, who saves his life and offers the opportunity to redeem himself.
Silas staggers out of the mud to go to her, but he finds that she's deceived him from the start. He'll risk his neck for her—he owes her that much—but love is no longer possible. His shot at redemption comes down to his conscience, the two women, a poker game, and the turn of a card.
Redemption on the River is historical fiction set along the Mississippi River in 1848.
This isn't the sort of book you normally see reviewed on this blog, but I grew up reading my dads Westerns and have a soft spot for them. While this is of a different tone (sort of) from them, it was just as enjoyable. As I haven't read an actual Western since I was a teen, I wasn't sure what I would think of this one. It turned out that this was exactly the sort of book I'd been craving!
The book started out good, I liked it well enough, but it wasn't until a little further in (maybe 50 pages or so) that I really started loving it. The one thing that really stood out to me was the authors accuracy with the southern accent mixed with the words of the time. I guess what I mean is, he has excellent dialogue skills. I have noticed more and more with books (indie books in particular) that dialogue doesn't always come across right. It is easily over the top and it just shoots you right out of the flow of the story. Loren DeShon though, did excellent. There were a few moments that I felt were a bit much, but for the most part all the dialogue was brilliant. However, while I LOVED it, I can see how others would have trouble with it. With incorporating the accent we get words like 'suh' (sir) and ah (I). I loved this, but maybe not everyone will. One thing that really puts me into a time period is when authors incorporate the right sort of language and this book most definitely had that! Keep in mind that the main character did not have this accent, it was just from those he encountered from the deep south. So it's definitely not a constant thing.
Silas is a character that brings out some complex and mixed feelings. And for me that was a positive. It got me more emotionally involved. Silas is very naive but headstrong and bold. He's also a fighter who doesn't hesitate to throw the first punch. For this we want to smack some sense into him because he's very good at making very bad decisions. But at the same time we see some glimpses of the good in him. As his conscious occasionally butts in and he hesitates in things and we know he knows that it's not a good idea to do something. But the temptations of money and of the flesh are just too much for him to resist. This weakness in him provides us with plenty to see of his growth as he starts to realize what an idiot he is and what changes he ought to be making. As the story continues we see this growth in him SO much. While sometimes he falls off the wagon a bit he's still moving forward in his redemption and finding what's really important. Slavery and the Underground Railroad play an important part in his story as he sees things with new eyes after encountering so much slavery on his travels and seeing the horrible things that the owners do to them. He also encounters a young lady who really inspires change in him as he can't seem to forget it her or get her out of his head.
I want to comment on the authors brilliance in creating colorful characters. I really felt like they had very distinct personalities and they were very bold and there. They had presence. Now, I'm mostly thinking of the main side characters, the ones that Silas spends time with, but pretty much everyone has a distinctness about them.
The book takes place up and down the Mississippi River in 1848. On ships and in the cities along the river. Because of this we see many of the same people show up over and over again and at times this was slightly confusing. As Silas says things like "my old friend from..." and we have to struggle to remember which 'friend' this is. But as the scene continues on and dialogue is exchanged it was usually easy to remember this particular person. (Who, by the way, was usually NOT a friend as Silas did a fantastic job at making enemies...) This was an issue that cleared up by the second half as all these characters had been mentioned enough it was easy to keep them straight.
This is an adult book, for sure. But Silas is young (I think maybe around 20?). For this reason I think older teens or new adults would enjoy it. However, it is a strong historical book filled with lots of sub-plots and extensive scenes of gambling (which I sometimes found boring since I know nothing about it). I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with American history. The author even incorporates real people into the story as well as real ships, real events, etc. But it's not a history lesson by any means. It's entertaining but for me it also was a good reminder of how we treat other humans. I think it's easy for us to sometimes think about the things that people have gone through in the past. How things were not so very long ago. And we need to remember it to keep it from happening again.
This is a book that will certainly stay with me and I can say it's definitely one of my favorite historical fictions for the year. I most definitely recommend you give this one a shot!
Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the author for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not paid or influenced in any way.