N.K. Parten’s RED TEARS is an uniquely structured historical novel, inspired by family history as it fits into the larger canvas of emerging United States history and the Fort Mims Massacre of 1813, through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Prudence.
Samuel Mims built up the plantation by creating a respectful relationship with the local Native tribes. Settlers passing through on their way to the Alabama River steal what they want, even from the house. The eldest daughter, Henrietta, is married to the commander of Fort Stoddart. Returning from a family visit to Mobile, they discover their home has been turned into a makeshift fort, run by the alcohol-soaked, bigoted Beasley, and settlers are drifting in for shelter, as clashes between whites and natives escalate.
The novel’s chapters are punctuated with maps, photos, and illustrations of known historical record surrounding the event, adding additional depth and context around the novel itself. The story’s slow pace mimics the heat and lethargy of the July days, contrasting to the increasing danger. This is both a positive and a negative for the novel. The slow unfolding shows how the promises broken in increments were easy to ignore until the situation exploded. Different factions with competing agendas, many of whom will say anything to achieve their desires, are well-developed. The novel does not shy away from or defend the racism against both natives and slaves. However, the meandering pace and the tangents telling background information instead of showing it create a lack of tension. Since the premise of the book is the Fort Mims massacre, there’s a sense of inevitability, but the journey (both literal and metaphorical) lacks suspense. The event itself happens so far into the narrative and is over so quickly that it leaves the novel unbalanced. Copyediting errors, especially when it comes to possessives and plurals, cause multiple re-reads of certain passages to clarify meaning.
However, the novel blossoms in the detailed, sensory descriptions of the plantation, the river, the journey. There is a connection to place, an awareness and love of the natural world that enriches the story. Prudence’s growth from protected youngest daughter into a young woman who must make decisions that affect her family’s lives is well rendered.
RED TEARS is a thought-provoking historical novel about a long-forgotten massacre that changed relations between natives and whites, and led into the Creek War of 1814.
~Eva Schegulla for Indie Reader