Lynn Austin,
Candle in the Darkness
(Bethany House, 2002)

Lynn Austin's fourth novel for Bethany House is an insightful look at a personal history of a young Southern belle, Caroline Fletcher, who struggles with conflicting issues of slavery and family loyalties. Written about the time between 1853 and 1864, before and during the Civil War in the United States, the story casts some new perspectives on the conflict.

Caroline becomes a real character in one's mind rather quickly; she has a bright, questioning mind, and is much closer to her extended household than she is to the shadow figures of her mother and father. The story revolves around her questions, and how the answers bring her into conflict with herself, her community, her country, her parents and her love. Though Caroline carries out some brave deeds during the story, she was often more stubborn than courageous. But it is a stubbornness born of her search for answers about what is right, a recurring theme of many stories published by Bethany House.

Austin has not created a sterile, one-dimensional character, but in Caroline are the facets of a real-life girl soon becoming a woman. She doesn't spend much time in our minds as the stereotypical Southern belle, but she blossoms into a responsible citizen with a true sense of justice, and as we see life through her eyes we take her journey, too, step by step. I was as conflicted as she in many instances and I think my choices would have been much different than hers, but that was what made the book such a compelling read.

In an unusual style, the first section of the book is told from Caroline's viewpoint -- she is writing her story to explain herself -- and then for the last 54 pages, the omniscient view takes over. It was a bit of a mind switch and I felt like someone had whisked Caroline away, and how dare someone else try take over her story and her voice?

The author gave me a new perspective on historical information and political background about the Civil War that I have not encountered in any other fiction I've read about that period. Because Austin won the 2002 Christy Award for another historical novel, Hidden Places, I suspect she does her homework very well on the period she chooses to write about.

I loved how she left some issues unresolved, preferring to maintain realism rather than becoming melodramatic. This is a historical novel with very entertaining characters, amazingly effective dialogue and a storyline that touches us all -- and really makes one often question "What would I have done?"

I really recommend this book, with its smooth soft cover, sturdy pages, print that eyes of any age can read comfortably and an excellent story.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 10 May 2003

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