I quite liked The Widow’s War and so got the two sequels right after finishing it--but while Bound is as competently written as its predecessor, it’s the kind of book that rises or falls on its protagonist, and Alice did not work for me.
The book tells the story of Alice Cole, who arrives in 18th century New England as a girl, losing most of her family on the trip only to be sold into indentured servitude at the end of it. When the real story begins, Alice is 15 and winds up with a master who rapes and abuses her. She soon escapes, and spends most of the book living with Lyddie Berry (the main character from the previous book) and trying to put her life back together.
I think the heart of my frustration with Alice is that she’s a rather distant character; it’s certainly possible to connect with a character who’s mistrustful and virtually unable to form real relationships with anyone else in the story, but something was missing with Alice. I can’t help contrasting her with the protagonist in a very different sort of book, Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers, which I recently read--Victoria is deeply damaged, and makes bad decisions, and hurts people who love her, and yet I cared about her throughout. Not so with Alice, who not only does all of those things throughout the book but never quite felt human or immediate enough for me to empathize with. Although she hardly speaks to anyone, somehow several people come to care about her, and yet she continues to be short-sighted and selfish and to throw people’s generosity in their faces. It’s understandable at first, but I wanted to see some strength from Alice, wanted to see her grow and learn to give back, at least a little. By the end, it seemed like the reader was meant to feel happy for Alice and believe that she was recovering. But all she ever does is run away, which after a certain point is not strength.
Even so, a 3-star rating means that the book does have its strengths. As I mentioned, it’s competently written. I like the way Gunning’s handled the Satucket books: coming back to the same town and a core group of characters with new eyes each time, and it’s fun to see the characters we met in the last book grow and change (even though Alice doesn’t). While this book deals less overtly with gender issues than The Widow’s War, I still appreciated Gunning’s not taking the conventional way out.
But what interested me most about this book (and an interesting facet of this whole series) is the focus on law and legal issues, which is rare in historical fiction. A large section of this book deals with colonial law and trials, and it was fascinating to learn about this and see how colonial courtrooms operated. These books are especially interesting for the way the characters take law that is mostly against them and manage to find a way to use it in their favor.
So my view on this one is decidedly mixed. The Widow’s War is unquestionably the best of the three Satucket books for me, but Bound is a quick read, and so if you liked the first one or have a particular interest in colonial law or indentured servitude, it’s probably worth a shot.