2008, Historical Fiction (1760s [Colonial] Massachusetts)
William Morrow, $24.95, 307 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061240257
If you've been reading my reviews for awhile, then you know I'm a sucker for Colonial Romances. They're pretty thin on the ground, though. If American Historicals are scarce, then Colonial Romances are even scarcer. Though I like my happy endings (I am a romance reader, after all), now and then I'll pick up some historical fiction just for something different. I was attracted to Bound not only because of the colonial setting, but also because the heroine was an indentured servant – something I've seen only a handful of times.
Alice Cole traveled to the new world from London as a small child. Unfortunately, her mother and brothers died along the way, and the cost of their medical care was more than her father could afford. In order to pay for the family's passage, he sold Alice into indentured servitude. For most of her formative years, she is with John Morton, a relatively kind master who treats her well. She serves as a companion to John's daughter Nabby, and stays with Nabby upon her marriage to Emery Verley.
It is then that Alice realizes the precarious nature of her position. Verley is a cruel man who rapes and beats her. Nabby turns a blind eye to the abuse, not wanting to face the reality that her husband is unfaithful. When Nabby abuses Alice as well, Alice throws caution to the winds and runs away to Boston. She meets a kind-hearted couple there, and impulsively stows away on the ship they are taking back to Nantucket. Alice is discovered at the end of the journey, but the kind-hearted woman (who turns out to be a widow) takes her in. The man accompanying the widow is Mr. Freeman, the widow's boarder.
The widow and Freeman do not entirely believe Alice's story; Freeman in particular is convinced that Alice is a runaway who will take off at the earliest opportunity, taking the widow's valuables with her. But as she stays and begins to contribute to the family economy, they slowly begin to trust her. It is just at this time that Alice realizes a horrible truth: She is expecting Verley's child.
All of these events take place against the backdrop of larger national events leading to the American Revolution, and the author shows how they affect the lives of ordinary colonists. One of the reasons that Alice becomes so valuable to the widow is that she is a talented spinner – at a time when the colonies have vowed not to import cloth (or anything else) from England. The colonial ladies begin to wear homespun, creating a new demand. Similarly, the Stamp Act and the Committees of Correspondence are part of the characters' lives.
What I liked best about Bound is that it truly shows how powerless an indentured servant really was – particularly a female one. Alice's position was always precarious, but she only realized the extent of her problems when faced with an unscrupulous master. Though she is hard-working and asks little of life, she is constantly at the mercy of others, and dependent on their largesse.
It helps that Alice is an interesting character. Her beauty is obvious to everyone, but many notice her intelligence as well. And like many servants, she sees much more than she reveals. I enjoyed viewing the events of the 1760s through her eyes. The historical details are virtually flawless, and definitely not of the window-dressing variety. The secondary characters – particularly Freeman and the widow – are very well-drawn as well.
Bound was a solidly good book, but it wasn't an amazing one. I enjoyed it while I read it, and recommend that fans of good historical fiction give it a try, especially if (like me) you are a fan of the Colonial Period.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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