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Lori Hart Beninger
A Peculiar Peace
Boston, 1856. Northern abolitionists demand an end to slavery as the South vows to protect its "peculiar institution." Immigrants rage against the prejudices of established citizens. Demands for equal treatment of women grow ever stronger. With discord raging, two people find themselves embroiled in the chaos of a rapidly changing world.
Beninger’s marvelous third Embracing the Elephant historical novel (after A Veil of Fog and Flames), set in 1856, depicts a budding romance against the backdrop of a fracturing nation. Jack Moylan works for shipping agent Somersworth and Walker and is looking forward to his latest management assignment in Boston, home of his childhood friend Guine Walker. Guine, who’s studying to be a doctor, meets attorney Virgil Staves while embracing the abolitionist cause. Though Guine’s father doesn’t think the son of an Irish immigrant is good enough to court his daughter, Jack continues to call on her. He hopes to ask her to marry him but fears competition from Virgil. When Guine is attacked and injured near Washington City, Jack rushes to her side, hopeful for her recovery and the possibility of their future together.

Beninger’s lyrical writing expertly captures the essence of the pre–Civil War U.S., emphasizing the tension between slaveholders and abolitionists. She highlights the dangers faced by enslaved people as well as their free counterparts in the North, who face frequent discrimination. Beninger creatively juxtaposes the prejudice against African-Americans with the social struggles of the Irish, especially Jack, who is determined to move past the obstacles Guine’s father has put in the way of his courtship.

The attention to historical detail is evident in all elements of the narrative. Beninger’s knowledge of the day’s politics sweeps the entire country, from California to the deep South. She highlights the infighting within the Democratic Party and the rise of the Republican Party, dryly noting that the primary appeal of Abraham Lincoln is that he “offends no one.” The political maneuvering between members of Congress and President James Buchanan may feel all too familiar to present-day readers. This rich and vivid novel captivates with an evocative blend of passion and politics.

Takeaway: This novel’s engaging characters, subtle romance, and vivid politics will delight any fan of Civil War–era historical fiction.

Great for fans of Diane C. McPhail’s The Abolitionist’s Daughter, Boston Teran’s A Child Went Forth.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-