The son of a Baptist preacher from Upper Louisiana, Angel Woolsack inherits his father’s biblical eloquence and violent tendencies and not only wields them with equal dexterity but liberally intertwines them. From Mississippi River flatboats to a Natchez whorehouse, his picaresque travels shape his mindset and introduce him to Samuel and Reuben Kemper, his partners in crime. His wife, Red Kate, a young woman carved from the same mold, is a similarly powerful presence.
For Angel, the West Florida territory, nominally ruled by the Spanish, is an opportunity to be grabbed, as are Aaron Burr’s dreams of forming an independent country. Seeing early nineteenth-century America through the eyes of an ambitious, trigger-happy renegade makes for an exhilarating yet brutal ride. Wascom imbues this underexplored era with visceral authenticity.
Kent Wascom's The Blood of Heaven was published today by Grove in hardcover at $25 (432pp). I read it back in early March, and the review above was published in Booklist's annual historical fiction issue on April 15th. As I had just 175 words to work with (and I always make use of every single one), here are some more personal comments:
(1) If I were to divide books into two categories, the first being "my usual type of book" and the second being everything else, this one would fall into the latter group. This is fine, and this is also why I like reviewing... it drags me out of my comfort zone.
(2) Every review copy comes with endorsements from other writers that trumpet its praises, we know that, but this one arrived with the most jaw-droppingly extraordinary blurbs I've read. I found myself reading them over and over in fascination, mostly for the imagery they created. Go ahead, take a look for yourself.
(3) Samuel and Reuben Kemper were real people; I hadn't heard of them before and am unlikely to forget them now.
(4) This is a novel I greatly admired for many reasons, but whether I enjoyed it is a more difficult question to answer. In parts, I did; the language, for instance, and how perfectly it matched the main character, setting, and tone. (And this isn't something I especially look for, myself, but if you're one of those who reads novels in order to find friends... well, keep looking.) The level of violence didn't appeal to me personally, but those who like their frontier fiction served authentically bloody and grim should grab this book immediately.