by Martha Conway
Narrator: Hillary Huber
Length: 12 hours and 33 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 4 cups
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.
[bctt tweet=”Martha Conway transports readers to 1838 along the Ohio River in The Underground River #audio” username=”kimbacaffeinate”]
What a wonderful cast of complicated women!
I’ve read several set in Civil War years but don’t recall any prior. This sounds very good. Thanks for sharing another title I can add to my bulging Audible wish list.
This one is new to me, and the time period interests me as well. I’ll have to check my library for this one, thanks!
I love the sound of this one. This is such an interesting setting for a story and I don’t think that I have read anything quite like it. Great review!
Sounds like a lovely book to meander through, Kim. Your review is wonderful. Wouldn’t it be a fascinating movie.
Tyler H. Jolley
It’s been a minute since I’ve read historical fiction. Thanks for putting this on my radar.
Melissa (Books and Things)
Sounds like some good characters in this book. Also sounds like a good audio.
Being from a town in Ohio that was once part of the underground railroad (the high school and many of the houses still have the underground tunnels in them) this one has me intrigued.
That sounds interesting.
Interesting book! It sounds right up my alley, I’ll have to give it a try.
Geybie's Book Blog
Fantastic review, Kim. I’ve never read a pure historical fiction before especially the one before 1900s. This sounds great, Kim. Glad that your enjoyed it. ❤️
Lover Of Romance
I just love the historical background that comes into play here, I definitely will be wanting to grab this one up.
Love a good cast of characters for sure! This sounds so good!
The cast of characters sounds wonderful and so does the narrator. So, glad you enjoyed this.
This topic fascinates me b/c I keep re-learning with Jake for homeschool and learning new things every year. And it keeps getting darker and darker…. and it’s OUR history 🙁 It’s great to see it done justice in a fictionalize tale.
Sounds like a wonderful historical fiction! I love a narrator that really gets into the period and personalities of the characters 🙂
Ooh pre civil war angst. Sounds goo Kim. Thanks
Glad you enjoyed this one. Never heard of this book before.
a thousand apologies, but is it It’s 1838, or 1938? but my assumption is 1938 it’s the civil war no? 1838 is on the top where the synopsis is
The book must take place in 1838, since the review says it’s PRIOR to the Civil War. You’re quick to catch that the Twitter link (which says 1938) is incorrect.
Wahaha don’t you just hate it when I mess up your post?
It sounds like a good narrator