“Slavery, January understood now as he never had before, made you fear change almost more than anything else.”
“Sold Down the River” by Barbara Hambly
One of the many very random books I’ve acquired from, Sold Down the River is the fourth book in a series of suspense/mystery novels of the pre-Civil War American South. The main character of the books is Benjamin January, a man who has earned his freedom. In this particular book, the only one of the series I’ve read, a sugar plantation owner by the name of Simon Fourchet hires January to investigate the series of murders, ruined equipment, and fires happening on Mon Triomphe, his plantation. To do this, January must act a slave again, the slave of a visiting white man who helps out on the field in lieu of the trouble getting the cane crop done in time. And so we enter a world of one of the darkest times in American history, while January reenters a world that forces him to confront his own demons of the past and question who he is in this world, still stuck between seeing an African as little more than equipment, a possession, a thing to be bought and sold and traded.
At least, that’s what we…or, at the very least, I….hoped from this book, but I was left a little disappointed. Perhaps a reader a little less familiar with this time period might have been a little more shocked by the details, but I studied some African-American literature in college, so I was well-versed in a lot of the details that Hambly presents and found them even a little lack-luster. They felt, as can often be the case with historical fiction, thrown in to showcase the historical context more than compliment the plot. The plot itself, I felt, was an interesting mix of convoluted and predictable. I called the solution to the mystery right off the bat, and so perhaps that was why it felt that a lot of useless misleads and misdirects and other little twists and the like were being thrown in.
An interesting read, a predictable read, and probably not a book I’d recommend highly or read through it again. I found myself much more interested in January’s life as a freed slave, in his time studying surgery and music in France, and his life in New Orleans as a musician; I honestly didn’t care too much about the fate of the plantation when all was said and done, with the exception of a few characters. I also found the ending to be a little disappointing; there was a certain forgiveness for a character who was “innocent” because she was clearly being “manipulated,” which I didn’t buy at all. There was a little bit of reconciliation, though, for January and his past, and I did really like that part of the ending.
So I liked the character and I liked the way Hambly has molded him, but I was not fond of the story in general. I think the other books would probably be more intriguing for me, personally, and have more to do with him pursuing his life of freedom, and so I might have to check one of them out and see.
Books read: 22 out of 100.