“Their child is conceived in a time of plague.” Prescient words in Rio de Janeiro in 1853, quite another type of plague descends upon the United States scant years later in a civil conflict that will set state against state, brother against brother. But in 1853, a smallpox epidemic decimates Carrie Vinton’s family in Brazil, her lover returned to the States and unable to return, eventually presumed dead of the smallpox like Carrie’s father.
From the accuracy of Brazilian recordkeeping to the harrowing details of Carrie’s mission, the activities of John Brown to the beating of Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of Congress in 1856 to Harper’s Ferry to April 12, 1861, when the first Confederate fires on Ft. Sumter, Mackey stays on target, albeit with the personal history of those who risk their lives for that most precious commodity - freedom - and the first African American soldiers to fight in the Civil War.
From the perspective of a courageous woman who seeks her destiny on the side of righteousness, the novel moves from Brazil to Kansas as Carrie Vinton loses the man she loves, marries his half-brother in a moment of weakness, loses one child, bears another, and returns to a country inexorably moving toward civil war.
Her inherited fortune squandered by her new husband, Deacon Presgrove, Carrie will hurl herself into the maelstrom of abolitionist and pro-slavery conflicts, following her heart and her conscience. Mackey personalizes the years before the Civil War from the time of Carrie’s return to the United States with her new husband, only to find him a fraud.
Taking artistic license, real events are portrayed, Kansas the background for a bitter fight between opposing causes. History propels much of the action, including the violent skirmishes in the territories, the inflamed passions of each side, and the relentless march toward the inevitable: the Civil War.
Couching history in Carrie’s personal story allows the author to portray the utter chaos of pre-war Kansas and the partisan sentiments of Carrie’s father-in-law (a rabid pro-slaver), her brutal husband, and Henry Clark, his vigilantes modeled after Quantrill’s Raiders. Mackey achieves her goal, bringing those days to life through the eyes of a female abolitionist, particularly the random and growing violence leading up to the war, John Brown’s mission, the destruction of freed slaves’ hopes, and the terrible attrition of the States’ conflict.