Just when you think the winter blahs have gotten the best of you, a novel comes along that makes you want to hole up in your house and read and read and read. Such a novel is Leila Meacham's stirring saga Somerset. This book has it all -- romance, ambition, passion, family secrets and more. It gathers you up in its pages and sweeps you along for decades. This is fiction writing at its best; it is one of this year's best novels so far and should hold that position as the year unfolds.
Leila Meacham is a Texan and in her book, she writes about Texas. Her main characters leave South Carolina in a wagon train bound for Texas where Silas Toliver plans to stake his claim to many acres and build a family plantation named Somerset. The time is the early 1800s so Silas plans to use slaves to farm his land. His co-partner of the wagon train is Jeremy Warwick. Both men are from South Carolina and both men have an unquenchable thirst for adventure.
In order to have the financing for the wagon train and the land he plans to obtain, Silas makes a deal with the devil. He agrees to take Jessica Wyndham with him. Jessica is an early proponent of freedom for the slaves her family owns. She has embarrassed her family with this position and so her father wants her away from South Carolina where her actions will not reflect on him.
The lives of Jessica, Silas and Jeremy are intertwined and as their lives play out so does the history of Texas. The state is as much a character in this book as the human ones, and the influence the area and the times exert on these people is felt for year to come.
Meacham is a storyteller in the best sense of the word. There are great writers who can turn a phrase brilliantly and spellbind the reader. Meacham has that talent, but she also can weave complex plotlines that intrigue the readers and have them anxiously awaiting the next twist of the story. Somehow she manages to keep every event in the lives of these people suspenseful as the story delves into death and destruction as well as secrets of the heart.
Meacham is also able to let nature run its course with her characters and this leads to the demise of people you thought would be with you for the entire story. This loss of life is acceptable as Meacham writes it since it makes the entire epic more believable and relatable. You grieve along with the characters in the story but you keep reading with never a thought of stopping.
Somerset is a prequel to Meacham's highly successful book Roses. Somerset's plot enhances Roses, and vice versa. Each book stands alone but when you combine the two they make the story of these families even more enjoyable.
Do not hesitate to read Somerset. Get your copy now and set aside some time to let yourself slip into this wonderful world it creates. Reading can fire the imagination especially when it is as skillfully done as this novel. Discovering Leila Meacham and her spectacular talent is akin to discovering gold. With this novel she has become a national treasure and one can only imagine the great novels still to come. She will, however, have a difficult time topping the joy of Somerset.
SOMERSET is published by Grand Central Publishing. It contains 624 pages and sells for $26.00.