Nov 17, 2018
by Diane McCurdy, Film and Book Reviews
As a gypsy spreads out her cards, her prophecy mentions a battle in a place where the trees grow beards and where the military action is punctuated by the exploits of exceptional women. The young man getting the reading is Andy Jackson, yes, that Andrew Jackson. Sue Ingalls Finan, Windsor author, begins her novel with a prediction and as her story evolves each one of her chapters begins with a Tarot card. The Tarot is that ancient, mystical deck steeped in magic and divination. Each card features an allegorical representation and an aphorism. The cards set the tone for the sections that follow it.
The setting is the war of 1812, more specifically Andrew Jackson’s rag tag American army’s victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, a very strategic port. Usually, if not almost always, wars tell the stories of men. Because this one is told by a women, it gives the feminine point of view which is no less heroic or horrific. Marguerite is a pampered, sometimes capricious , upper class belle who we meet in childbirth. She is madly in love with her husband and desperate to give him a child. Catherine is a voodoo priestess of sorts. She is a midwife and a healer with a gentle, magnanimous personality. Sister Angelique is an Ursuline nun whose convent provides a makeshift infirmary for the injured. Millie is a brave and bold prostitute who transports the wounded with considerable danger to herself. She longs not to be identified by her profession and to have a normal life with Pete who was “impressed” by the British basically kidnapped and later rescued by the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte. Actual personages who were living at the time are intermingled with imaginary ones making the action very real and, at times, very raw.
This is a historical novel so certain facts are expected but the detail given is this piece are extraordinary. Curative herbs and potions are identified, and their effects are discussed in detail as are the intricacies of weaponry. A custom called placage was particularly interesting. It was a sanctioned arrangement where a white creole man would establish a relationship with a woman of mixed blood. She becomes his second wife and he pledges to care for any children that may result from their union. The sixteen years of research put into writing of this book is evident. New Orleans is a city of intrigue and diverse culture even to this day. Having been settled originally by the French it was able to avoid some of the Puritanism of the upper colonies. Sue Ingalls Finan (a relative of author Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote The Little House on the Prairie) has given us a glimpse of the strong women who function behind the battle lines all the while capturing the essence of a great city: its exotic intrigue, inherent sexuality and patriotic passion.
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