Monday, August 15, 2011

House of Clouds by KI Thompson

Publisher:               Bold Strokes Books

Writing historical fiction is always tricky. There are always those readers who know something about the period and don't like to see liberties taken with the facts. Setting a book in the American Civil War, which still tends to arouse passions, is almost asking for trouble. The fact that KI Thompson does a more than credible job is commendable.

House of Clouds tells the story of two women brought together in the most tragic period in US history. Northerner Jordan Colfax and Southerner Laura St. Clair first meet because their brothers are best friends and cadets at West Point. Emotions are running high in the country and the women quickly find themselves on opposite sides of the arguments, but there is an attraction they can't deny. Jordan, who is a well-known actress, is recruited to spy for the North while she is in Richmond performing and her main target is Laura's father, a highly placed official in the new Confederate government. Laura finds this self-reliant woman to be a refreshing change from the women she is surrounded by and delights in introducing her to "polite" society and shocking her parents' friends; however, she finds herself becoming progressively more confused as her parents pressure her to make a "proper marriage," yet all she wants to do is spend time with Jordan. Her confusion only grows when she discovers the truth about why Jordan is in Richmond and must decide which of her loves to betray, Jordan or her country. The women experience tragedy, suspense, and a crisis that could get them both killed, but the real test will be whether they can forgive each other enough to consider a life together.

One of the problems of novels set in the Civil War is that they tend to tell the story only from one side, the Northern, and to repeat the same tired, not always accurate, opinions. Thompson tries to avoid that and does a respectable service to a very complex event. She presents arguments from the Southern side that their decisions were based on multiple issues and were expressions of deeply felt passions, although she does rather hastily dismiss their statements and lean on the correctness of the Northern attitudes.
The characters are rich and full, and in a very real touch, both Jordan and Laura, though they don't completely come over to the other side, do come to realize that the issues are more complicated than they originally believed and that there is some justification in how the other feels. 

The book's scope is broadened by the inclusion of a side story involving the conflicting emotions of a slave woman and her daughter as they react to what is happening around them. Thompson's knowledge of Virginia geography and her descriptions of life just before and during the Civil War give the book a realistic feeling that makes the story more appealing.

This is not a heavy historic novel and shouldn't scare away readers who think they don't care for that type of book. This is an interesting story, full of suspense, intrigue, sorrow and passion that is set in the saddest period of American history. You don't need to know the history to enjoy House of Clouds, but you might learn something while reading a good story. That is always a plus in this reviewer's opinion.

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