by Martha Conway
Narrator: Hillary Huber
Length: 12 hours and 33 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
Purchase: Amazon | Audible
Narration Rating: 4
It's 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue-until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states. May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early, who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.
THE UNDERGROUND RIVER by Martha Conway intrigued me from the period to the characters part in helping slaves find freedom. Narrated by Hillary Huber, Conway took me down the Ohio River on a floating theater and introduced me to a cast of quirky and endearing characters.
Conway shares life along the Ohio River in 1838 long before the Civil War would abolish slavery. The Ohio River was a natural boundary between free and slave states. Life along the river was busy from merchants to Steamboats and flatboats transporting goods and people back and forth between the northern and southern states. Here networks worked to help slaves find freedom, bounty hunters searched for runaways, and slave trade took place.
Our protagonist May Bedloe a seamstress for her performing cousin, soon finds herself displaced when the steamboat they were aboard sinks. This tragedy has her cousin Comfort working with an abolitionist named Flora Howard. Howard hands May some funds and sends May on her way. May finds work on Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre. The tale that unfolds pushes May and alters her completely.
The story is rich in detail and meanders along the river at a leisurely pace sharing May’s story, the demands of Mrs. Howard and the transformation in May. I loved the inner workings of the theater and the quirky characters on board. May soon finds herself pushed into situations she isn’t comfortable. Her dealings with a horrible woman on board the ship and crossing the river at night to rescue babies drive May out of her comfort zone and mold her into a brave, independent young woman.
Conway’s characters are colorful from Mrs. Howard who seems to point her nose down at you, to a young black woman of fourteen who has seen the darkest side of humanity. The tale unfolds calmly with a few bends in the river, and for some, it may seem to move slowly. However, I found the characters and story to be rich in detail, and the pacing allowed me to savor it.
Hillary Huber narrated the tale and did justice to the story. She captured May’s personality and different accents of the period. Her timing and pacing allowed me to slip into the story easily and I will gladly listen to her again.
THE UNDERGROUND RIVER shares May’s adventures that summer and gives us a glance of the atmosphere and divided opinions that eventually would bring about the Civil War.Martha Conway transports readers to 1838 along the Ohio River in The Underground River #audio Click To Tweet
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