Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Accidents of Providence by Stacia Brown

From the Back Cover:

It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell’s army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and lewd women presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.

Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and Leveller William Walwyn are locked in a secret affair. But when a child is found buried in the woods, Rachel is arrested.

So comes an investigation, public trial, and unforgettable characters: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lillburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.

My Thoughts:

I was looking forward to this book because the English Civil War is a period of time I'd like to read more about, but the Civil War is really more of a backdrop in this case, as the book focuses on a fictional murder trial and the people involved, and how the Levelers turned it into propaganda to further their cause. The story is narrated alternately by Rachel Lockyer, on trial for murdering her bastard child; her lover William Walwyn, a Leveler leader; Thomas Bartwain, the criminal investigator; and Mary du Gard, the main witness to the crime. Nobody really knows what happened except for Rachel, and she refuses to speak in her own defense, so through the course of the novel and the trial, bits and pieces of what happened in the months leading up to the trial come to light.

I had a couple of problems while reading this. First, I didn't really like the characters. I was frustrated that Rachel wouldn't tell her side of the story or do anything to save her own skin. In some ways she was very smart and perceptive, but in others she was so naive. And as the events of the previous year were unraveled in flashback, Rachel came off as being kind of kooky and not the most sympathetic character. And her lover, William Walwyn--what a coward! Married with fourteen children, he can write seditious pamphlets and get locked in the Tower multiple times but he can't stand up for the mother of his fifteenth child, whom he claims to love above all else. The other Levelers came off as being a bit callous and self-serving, anxious to turn others' misfortunes into their propaganda. Bartwain, the investigator, and his henpecking wife were good for a bit of comic relief, but it seemed a little out of place.

There's a lot of time spent describing Leveler and Puritan ideology and a lot of narrative exposition of events that did not take place in the book, and honestly, most of it was bland and went right over my head. But Brown did a good job of showing how personal beliefs and prejudices can affect how a person interprets what they see, and of demonstrating the injustices of the judicial process against women. There are some gripping and gruesome descriptions of Newgate Prison, too. All in all it's not a bad story, it just never really grabbed me. But the ending is surprising and hopeful, Brown's writing style is fluid, the story is well-researched, and the author's note is extensive and enlightening. Recommended for those who would like to learn a little more about the mindset of the Levelers and small village life under Cromwell's rule.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.


  1. I am reading this right now and so far I am not all that impressed with it either. Thanks for the honest review.

  2. I would just get really sad and really really angry


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