Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61922-742-2
Historical Romance, 2015
After the Great War (World War 1, that is), our hero Asa Thomas Caldwell comes home a wounded man in both body and soul. An injury leaves him with a stump where a foot used to be, and he’s all “Ooh! I should eat a bullet now because my life is so boo-hoo-hoo!” The heroine of a previous book, a nurse, is having nothing of all this, so she sends him off to bring back her sister from Winslow, Georgia (Asa lives in Pittsburgh). She believes that her sister Margaret “Mags” Bledsoe is in danger, and she tempts Asa to go down South for Mag by suggesting that Asa can go undercover and discover for himself the reason why Mags may be in a danger – that town is a hot bed for lynching and such. A journalist, Asa’s curiosity is piqued.
With a prosthetic foot, thanks to the doctor husband of Mags’s sister, Asa undergoes a rather unbelievably fast transformation from a mopey rag on the brink of suicide into some guy who believes that a way to a woman’s heart is to keep pushing her hot buttons as if he’s still some boy who is still in the playground pulling the ponytail of the girl he has a crush on. I know, those were the days, and attitudes were different, but I can’t imagine that men back then didn’t have a clue that it’d probably be easier to catch bees with honey. Oh well.
Mags is at first annoyed because Asa takes her job as the fellow in charge at the local mill just because he’s a man, and she is also not pleased because Asa’s appearance complicates her plan for vengeance on the town mill owner. But her family takes to Asa like fish to water, and Asa charms her as much as he vexes her, so ooh indeed.
A Most Precious Pearl is not a bad book by any means, far from it. It has a nice balance of romance and external issues. It addresses some pretty heavy social issues gripping the black population at that time, but there are some moments of humor to provide some respite from the more sobering elements in this story. I also enjoy the author’s portrayal of the cultural differences between the Northern and Southern black folks of the early 20th century, although things get very heavy-handed fast in a whole “the North is a black utopia full of good guys while the South is infested by foul racist pigs” way.
The last is probably a result of the author’s very black and white portrayal of her characters – the main reason why this book has only three oogies from me. Character development is lightweight – Asa, in particular, goes from contemplating suicide to Rico Suave within a turn of a page, as if a phrase telling me that a few weeks have passed in the meantime would be enough. Mags is feisty, determined, and often shows dubious sense of self-preservation, but the last is okay because she can basically do anything and everything unless the author wants the hero to step in and show the world that he’s an awesome hero. Asa, after his wooden leg reminds him that he can still get it up and wag it everywhere, is a hero who rarely makes any wrong move. The good secondary characters are all sweet, kind, and what not, while the bad guys are all evil.
As a result of this shallow kind of characters in this story, the author’s effort to be all inspirational and educational in showing readers what things were like for black folks back in those days can often take the taint of a badly handled after school special. As I’ve said, A Most Precious Pearl is a pretty painless read, but the author’s treatment of her characters often make it seem far more superficial than it should be.