I begin this post with tears in my eyes–tears which have welled up as my heart has been taken on a journey of both pain and hope in the reading of this magnificent book. Let me say a few words about that journey.
First of all, in the spirit of complete disclosure, this book is being published by Valor Publishing Group, LLC, the same publishing company which is publishing my own novel in March of 2010. I received the Advanced Readers Copy free of charge. A few months ago, I was asked if I wanted to be part of the Blog Tour by Tristi Pinkston, Senior Editor at Valor, and I eagerly accepted. I am under no obligation to like the book. I am under no obligation to say nice things about the book, even if I do like it. I made no promises of any kind to Tristi or to Valor except for one: I would write a review, and I would be honest. If I were to hate the book, I would say so.
Second, I want all who read this review to know, I struggled with the book at first. The way that the chapters are laid out, with a painfully frequent jumping from one scene and place and year to another, and then back again, and this done several times, made the book a difficult read. I talked with Tristi about my concerns and was told two important things:
1. The final version of the book will have a chronology in it so that the reader can more easily figure out where they are on the timeline, and not get lost in the history.
2. When I asked about certain methods of style employed by the author in the writing, I was encouraged to consider the novel more of a “Dramatized Historical Narrative” than a Historical Fiction Novel. That encouragement helped me to look past the point-of-view changes which I found at times to be confusing.
Now, with those two points in mind, I will give my overall impression of the book.
I found Mark Shurtleff’s writing to be beautifully descriptive, the story enjoyable to read, and the characterization believable. There are times which I felt the book read more like a history textbook than a novel, but I believe that fits well within the description of being a Dramatized Historical Narrative.
The history contained in the book is utterly fascinating. As I read, I kept asking myself, “Why did I not know this? Didn’t I learn about Dred Scott in school?”. Yes, I believe that I did learn a little about him. What the history textbooks wanted me to know, at least. And much of history contained in textbooks since I was a kid is either glossed over, or revisionist with the intent to distort the facts, in my opinion. But I am not here to talk about my conservative political views.
No book is perfect. Even this book, I am sure, has its flaws and incorrect historical facts. It would be an education in itself to try and find them. But, I don’t have the background or the time to research it so that I might verify every single point, and there are thousands of such history facts in this book. Let me say this, if even eighty percent of this book is historically spot-on, the book would then be a treasure trove. And I get the feeling the percentage is much, much higher.
Aside from all of this, I do want to share what the book made me feel…
Dred Scott is a national hero, or he should be.
The pain I felt as I read about his incredible journey through life brought tears to my eyes.
The wonder I felt as I realized that with all of the complexities of men’s lives–intertwining, affecting each other, hampering at times and helping at others, and the barriers which wicked men place in front of those who have a right to seek liberty–that God could still work his wonders through men, whether they realized they were instruments in his hands or not, deeply impressed me.
The admiration I felt as I learned about Dred, his family, the Blows, and the people who wanted to help him, made me to feel the burning fires of patriotism even stronger than I did before, and forever solidified my feelings towards Dred Scott to be the same which I have always felt for Abraham Lincoln: That these men were blessed by God, which blessings in turn, blessed us all.
My final word about the book… Wonderful. I encourage anyone who has a desire to experience the fires of freedom burning within their heart to read this book, one which I believe is destined to be talked about for a good long time. Congratulations to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: Well done!