Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Agnes Canon's War by Deborah Lincoln


Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.

This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.

It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.

As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.

This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.



Six sisters and Agnes, and she was the only one to have children.  Definitely not what would have been expected from such a group of women at that time (mid-19th century).  But Agnes never did like 'what was expected of her'.  I suppose she can be counted as a feminist of the era.

Agnes was indeed at war with how other people thought she should conduct her life.  And which of us would do otherwise?  There are situations in our lives when we have to do what others tell us - our parents in our families or superior officers in a military unit.

People in the United States are fortunate that there have not been military skirmishes on American soil basically since the time of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as some of the older generation still call it around here).  And I'm not counting terrorist attacks like 9/11, although that is a topic for another time.

Reading Agnes Canon's War reminded me of the hubbub that surrounded Kenneth Brannagh's version of the movie Henry V when it came out.  Some people judged it as far inferior to Olivier's version in 1944.  Of course that was made during WWII and was in part propaganda.  Not that I in any way deny Olivier's acting chops - but it was a function of the time.  People wanted the public to support WWII and the arts reflected that.

Truth is, war is a dirty business.  People die, sometimes LOTS of people.  If you look at the Civil War, I believe more Americans died in that war than in any other in our history.  Agnes Canon's War accurately reflects the horrors of war as well as the moments of bravery and other such nobler emotions.

For me, the only time the story slowed down was after Agnes and Jabez came to acknowledge their like for each other, even though they were not yet 'together'.  But that was fleeting, and the flow picked right back up (it was still some years before the start of the official war).

Ms. Lincoln gives us a full spectrum of emotions in Agnes Canon's War.  Who would think back in those days, that a woman of more than 30 would not only find love for the first time, but birth and raise three children?  Certainly parents of any age or time period would find the death of one child, let alone two a heavy burden to bear.  The viciousness brought on by hate of people with different points of view is seen in the decimation of entire famlies by people favoring one side or the other.  And one side was not any better or worse than they other.

Agnes Canon's War is a needed mirror for us to peruse and ponder the possibilities of human action.  What path will each of us choose?  That is for each of us to decide.

I'm glad I didn't read the Author's Note until after I had finished the story.  It brought a little extra 'giftie' to my reading experience, much like opening one's Christmas stocking after all the presents under the tree have been opened.



Deborah Lincoln grew up in the small town of Celina, among the cornfields of western Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan. She and her husband have three grown sons and live on the Oregon coast.

Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have dropped below the surface like a stone in a lake, with not a ripple left behind to mark the spot.”

Agnes Canon’s War is the story of her great great-grandparents, two remarkable people whose lives illustrate the joys and trials that marked America’s tumultuous nineteenth century.

For more information on Deborah Lincoln please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


(I received a print copy of Agnes Canon's War from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

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