“Paper Woman” by Suzanne Adair: A Riveting Historical Read
While searching for a new Southern historical novel to enjoy, I was shocked to encounter a book set in Georgia during the American Revolution. Given that Georgia is one of our nation’s thirteen original colonies, it should come as no surprise that there are fine Southern authors willing to give the South its due regarding another important time period in history. Too often we lose ourselves in the romanticism of the Civil War and forget the importance of the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War which even many historians have failed to give full credit.
“Paper Woman” is set in Alton, Georgia in 1780, and it is the first of a trilogy of mysteries. It begins innocently enough at a country dance during which we meet heroine Sophie Barton, a twice widowed woman in her early thirties who has earned the nickname “Paper Woman” by running her father’s printing press. Before the night is out, her father, outspoken Patriot Will Barton, has gone missing. Sophie then must identify his body as well as the bodies of two other comrades, but the local redcoats seem less concerned about the murders than they should. We are then plunged into a plot of mystery and international espionage when Sophie vows to uncover what happened to her father. The journey carries us from Georgia to Florida and the Caribbean.
I don’t know where to praise Suzanne Adair more: for her fine attention to historic detail or for her art of producing wonderfully sketched characters who seem living and breathing friends. Sophie Barton is less glamorous than most heroines penned during this era, and this omission makes her infinitely more likeable. She is eager to see what life holds outside of Alton, competent at her duties at the printing press, and less than moved by the prospect of remarriage. The cast of characters who travel with her on her journey is equally pleasing. Her brother David is a rake whose womanizing exploits will leave the reader with a dry chuckle from one incident to the next, and fellow adventurer Uncle Jacques is the kind of man fresh from the pages of a tall tale. Finally, half-Creek and ex-lover Matthias Hale delivers just enough tortured complexity to round out the characters. I must commend Adair for doing such a beautiful job of including the Creek Indians throughout her plot in such a seamless, believable way. Authors have long shied away from the presence of Native Americans in Southern culture just as they have ignored the American Revolution.
Equally refreshing was the fact that Ms. Adair did not feel the need to include famous historical figures in her novel. The story is carried on the backs of believable characters without altering the course of history. There is nothing so disappointing as weaving George Washington and other contemporaries into a novel when the reader’s cursory glance at a time line reveals it to be impossible.
That being said, as refreshing and adventuresome a book as this is, it is not light reading. The plot is complicated, and it was easy to get lost in the hours before bedtime. At times it felt like the banter between characters was a bit heavy and unrealistic, but it also helped to pump fresh energy into a book which requires all of one’s attention. While I admire Ms. Adair’s commitment to historical accuracy and feel that we gloss over many a topic that ought to be covered in historical fiction, the references to menstruation were too numerous. Once or twice would have been enough to add gritty realism.
I think Suzanne Adair is a fine novelist as well as a very bold one to tackle topics of our Southern heritage that are often overlooked. I look forward to reading more books by Ms. Adair, and out of a total five stars, I will happily assign 4 stars to this book.