The Orphan Mother is the third Civil War era novel from Robert Hicks. While not strictly meeting the definition of a trilogy, each of the three novels focuses on participants in the bloody 1864 Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.
The first of the three books, The Widow of the South, tells the story of Carrie McGavock, mistress of the Carnton Plantation house and the property on which she personally cared for and preserved the graves of some 1,500 casualties (from both armies) of the nearby battle. McGavock maintained the cemetery for the remaining years of her life, and it is open to the public even today. A Separate Country, the second of the three books, looks closely at the life lived after the war by the Confederate general in command of Southern troops at the Battle of Franklin, John Bell Hood, and is largely set in New Orleans. Now comes The Orphan Mother, which commences shortly after the end of the Civil War and recounts the story of Mariah Reddick, Carrie McGavock’s personal slave, a woman who experienced no other life but service to Carrie until the war finally ended.
Mariah Reddick is the preeminent midwife in the city of Franklin, Tennessee. She offers her birthing services to black and white families, alike, and by now has had a personal hand in the birthing of a significant portion of its citizens. The only thing different now is that she gets to keep the fees she collects for her services rather than having to turn the money over to the family that owns her. Mariah is doing well, and feeling confident about what the future holds for her and her only son Theopolis, who just happens to be the best shoe and boot maker in the city of Franklin.
Theopolis, though, has bigger ambitions than ministering to the feet of his fellow townsmen – he wants to represent them in the state government. But when Theo is murdered by an angry mob at the first political event he tries to speak at, Mariah’s world comes crashing down around her, and all she wants now is to identify the men who killed her son so that she can somehow bring them to justice. Mariah will learn much about her town and the people in it during her search for her son’s killers, but she will also meet a man with the ability to change the rest of her life, if she will only let him – and if he can bring himself to tell her the truth about her son’s death.
The Orphan Mother is a fine addition to Robert Hicks’s Civil War books, and it leaves me anxious to see what comes next from Hicks. Civil War fiction (as with all serious historical fiction) is a tool by which a good novelist brings history to life by allowing readers to witness historical events through the eyes of those who lived it. Robert Hicks makes that happen in The Orphan Mother.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)