Rating: 4 stars
Until she was thirteen, Marlie Lynch grew up with her mother, a freed slave and wise woman. After her white father's death, she was taken in by her half-sister and has been able to combine her knowledge of herbs and root magic with scientific principles. Three years into the American Civil War, Marlie and her half-sister are working surreptitiously to aid the cause of the Union, giving aid to runaway slaves and Freedmen, taking medicine and food to imprisoned Union soldiers, and with Marlie sending coded messages about troop movements and the Confederate Home Guard to the Resistance group the Loyal League.
Unfortunately for Marlie and her sister, their various anti-Confederate enterprises are endangered when Marlie's half-brother (and technically the heir) returns home with his unpleasant and racist wife, who is deeply loyal to the Confederate cause, to the point where she offers to let the Home Guard use their estate as their base of operations. While Marlie has always been a free woman, and has been treated more or less as a part of the family, she now sees how little protection she actually has, and how easily she can be ignored and mistreated because of the colour of her skin. Only a few trusted servants know that Marlie is hiding an escaping Union soldier, Ewan McCall in the laboratory in her private quarters. While McCall was imprisoned in the camp nearby, he and Marlie would exchange notes discussing ethics and philosophy. There was an attraction between them even before Marlie came to shelter him from danger in her rooms.
As Marlie's evil sister-in-law grows increasingly more controlling and jealous, and the cruel Captain of the Home Guard turns his eye more closely to Marlie, whose independence and spirit offends him, it becomes clear that Ewan can no longer stay on the Lynch farm and will have to escape. When Marlie's freedom is suddenly threatened as well, she has no choice but to go with him. While Marlie wants to believe that Ewan's feelings for her are true, she's very conflicted because of her own background, a product of the unequal union a slave-owner and her then enslaved mother. Can a relationship with a white man ever really last, no matter how sensitive and philosophical he seems? Marlie has also dedicated her life to the healing and helping of others; how will she react when she discovers that Ewan was a torturer before he was taken prisoner?
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.