The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

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The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A tale from the pioneering days of the US based on historical characters. Violent, depressing and full of characters with no redeeming qualities, but there again so is Lord of the Flies and that's not done too badly.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 464 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1611855715

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1799 in America and Angel Woolsack is the son of an itinerant preacher, travelling around Louisiana. Life isn't easy as Angel is torn between the puritanical fire and brimstone upbringing of Preacher-Father and his desire to be a normal young man within the confines of a religious community. Eventually Angel's desire to express himself leads to tragedy and, with his only friend Samuel Kemper for company, he is cast out by those he loves. Angel and Samuel decide to search for Samuel's elder brother, Reuben, and thus begins the adventure that will take them to Florida, bring Angel a feisty bride and provide a place in the history books for the Kemper brothers as they grapple for land against the Spanish.

Debut American novelist Kent Wascom has chosen an historical path less trod on which to base his story. At least it's not a well-trodden path for those of us here in the UK more used to a steady diet of the War of Independence and the American Civil War when it comes to early colonial conflict. For this reason it has the potential to be different and it is, but not in a way that will appeal to all.

The language drifts between the poetic and the brutal, giving us a good feel for the dark times and struggles associated with forging a future in an every-man-for-himself society. However the darkness predominates over light; we begin the book with Angel urinating blood out of a window and, as he tells his tale in flashback, the bad times just keep on coming. To begin with I was fully behind Angel, plumping for him in his often hugely difficult plight but eventually I found myself being ground down.

For instance early on in the proceedings the Woolsacks' community decide that the neighbouring village is responsible for murder on tenuous evidence. Therefore the Preacher-Father (as Angel always calls his dad) leads his people in a massacre with victims spanning all ages and genders. I'm not adverse to adult themes and an emphasis on blood lust being used to either shock or further a plot but here it adds to the miasma of depression that covers the Kempers' world, most of its population, for me, being totally without redeeming features and hence very difficult to like or engage with.

His knack of conveying brutality actually assists Kent to create an authentic feeling for the horror of slavery. Also there are some interesting historical moments as we observe the posturing and carving-up of America between 'Americans', French and Spanish. I found myself putting some of my misgivings aside temporarily in the final sections of the novel as the political posturing took over and we're given the opportunity of watching the brains of the founding fathers at work. If this had been a political novel with more of that, it could easily gain a star as Kent shows himself to be a writer of talent.

Although I found the historical sidebars enthralling in the breaks between death and dinge (e.g. the story of the woman who unfortunately wiped out a whole indigenous colony with some stamina and an STD) I couldn't wholly agree with the glowing praise in the book blurb, but perhaps you can?

I'd like to thank Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you would like to read a book that chronicles the life of the early pioneers in all its brutality and poignancy and does so, for me, more effectively, try The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

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