Reviews - The Driver's Wife
In 1693, former sailor Edward Ketch works for his former captain, a onetime pirate, Jack Mallory, and his wife, Maria, on a rice plantation in the Carolinas. He becomes attracted to a young mulatto slave named Isabelle. Separated from her mother at the trading block in Charles Town, Isabelle is withdrawn, and soon her marriage to a fellow slave becomes an abusive situation. Ketch, who is an outcast from other white people because of his rough mannerisms, rescues her from her difficult marriage by killing her husband. Ketch now risks his relationship with his master, and with the other drivers who may learn of his involvement in the murder.
This is a fascinating novel about slavery in the Deep South in the 17th century. The author has previously written a trilogy, The Jack Mallory Chronicles, and this story is a spin-off with Ketch as the protagonist. Ms. Keogh examines the everyday life of slaves enduring the daily grind and provides interesting and troubled main characters with secret pasts.
This is also a love story with a twist: the forbidden relationship and marriage of a white man and a slave and its repercussions among the residents of Leighlin Plantation. The author examines how the relationships between blacks and whites can differ, and she shows a masterful command of the customs of the era. The novel is well-written, with well-formed and credible characters. I enjoyed reading this novel, although some readers might be made uneasy by the subject matter and how it deals with slavery.
--- Historical Novel Reviews (Historical Novel Society)
Novels about slavery are often difficult to write and read because of the emotional stirring that the subject invokes. Slavery, to us in the modern age, is utterly abhorrent but the past regarded it – especially the African slave trade – as normal and acceptable. To write a novel where the facts prevail over modern 'Political Correctness' without producing any over-emphasis of condemnation or indignation of the Trade is quite a feat.
The author of The Driver’s Wife has managed the difficulties very well indeed. The main character, Ketch, is possibly, initially, one of the most unlikable characters to be met in the pages of a novel – and yet, as we get to know his background and his past the opinion of him begins to change.
The heroine is Isabelle, a slave traumatised by an act of rape and rejection because of her mixed race. She is believable and likeable. Other characters are as intriguing and the descriptions of the Colonial South, Carolina, are very well written.
The novel takes the reader into the lives of characters who could well have been real people, exploring relationships, love, fear, hope and despair with a well-crafted talent. Alongside the characterisation is the author’s descriptive writing that takes the reader into the past and brings everything alive: I felt the heat from the sun beating down on the plantation, felt the sweat upon my skin, the coolness of the evening, the hard, hard non-escapable tiring, daily work of those slaves...
The author pulls off quite a feat. She gives us a main character who is about as far from lovable as it’s possible to get: Ketch has a violent past, a truculent, antagonistic attitude, and many secrets. He is damaged on more than one level. And yet… even from the beginning we see his intelligence at work, his sense of justice, his compassion (even though he doesn’t recognize that quality in himself). One step at a time, incrementally, we begin to root for Ketch, until before we know it we’re a hundred percent on his side – and he is becoming a different man.
This book is a gem. Its descriptions of the colonial south are lush and vivid, which enhances the whole, but the extraordinary depth of characterization is what makes this story something special. The two main characters are fully realized. Separately and together, they hold the reader’s interest and we can’t help but care about them and their budding relationship, which is as singular as it is inevitable. Secondary characters, too, are three-dimensional, especially Helen, the precocious and warm-hearted child who Ketch protects and loves. I would love to see a follow-up book someday about Helen as a grown woman.
A lot happens to Ketch and Isabelle externally, but even more happens – and deeper changes occur – internally, which gives the characters and the book as a whole a rare depth and richness. This reader will not soon forget these people and their story.
--- Tinney S. Heath
Author of A Thing Done