Until I picked this book up I had never heard of Leila Meacham, and when I asked around no one I knew had read anything by her either. After reading this book I went out and bought everything else she’d written. It is that good. If you like historical fiction, romance, and a deep narrative, then you should pick up this book. The book starts slowly, but the characters creep up on you and it quickly becomes hard to put down.
Somerset is a prequel to Leila Meacham’s first novel ‘Roses’, and is set in nineteenth century America. Somerset tells the story of Jessica Wyndham, an outspoken abolitionist, and her marriage to Silas Toliver. The marriage is one of convenience, Silas needs money, Jessica’s father has money and wants to get his daughter out of South Carolina, a slave dependant state. As Jessica accompanies Silas on his journey to the unruly and dangerous state of Texas she slowly works her way into the heart of her husband and step-son, Joshua. The journey to Texas is one riven with danger and challenges, and Meacham cleverly weaves in historical detail to evoke a realistic image of America in the 1830s.
The narrative unfolds in various ways. The use of diary entries, change of character perspective, and character narration add to the richness of the story that Meacham creates. Meacham artfully weaves together a rich American history with a story of pain, passion and triumph. The narrative spans sixty years, and the reader is placed as an observer at the centre of Jessica’s life witnessing births, deaths, and marriages. The book ends with Jessica’s death, and exactly where Meacham’s first book, ‘Roses’ begins.