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Book Cover Image: Original Sins by Peg KingmanTitle: Original Sins: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom

Author: Peg Kingman

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Anibaddh Lyngdoh claims that she intends to introduce a new kind of silk to the floundering American silk industry. But her true reason, as her old friend Grace MacDonald Pollocke discovers, is far more personal. Grace, now a Philadelphia portrait painter, undertakes a perilous investigation that leads to the discovery of old sins and crimes, and the commission of new ones. What laws maybe broken-what sins and crimes committed-in the service of a higher justice? Deceit, forgery, fraud, perjury . . . even murder? This novel thrillingly evokes a nineteenth-century America not so different from the present: a time of stunning new technologies and financial collapse, when religious and racial views collided with avowed principles of morality and law.”

Thoughts: Original Sins is a historical novel that is more philosophical diatribe than one that contributes a greater understanding to historical events. It tries too hard to be grand in scope and ends up being polarizing as it discusses topics that are more appropriate to today’s society than Philadelphia and Virginia in the 1840s. While Ms. Kingman uses historical figures in her novel to lend an air of authenticity to the novel, these true-life characters do not blend well with their fictional counterparts. The result is a novel that is largely inconsistent and jagged, moving from one topic to another with little fluidity.

The biggest fault of Original Sins is the multitude of topics. Ms. Kingman attempts to blend such topics as daguerreotypes, silkworms, religion, slavery, politics, painting, gardening, Indian and Virginian cultures and more. This is simply too much information to combine into one 428-page novel. As a result, character development is distinctly lacking, and the reader remains removed from Grace’s plight. The rest of the characters remain decidedly stereotypical and one-noted. One gets the impression that certain subjects were only introduced in an effort to discuss other topics, and all the topics do not mesh well together but appeared forced together out of sheer will. There is a distinct stuttering to the novel. Just as the reader settles into a new subject matter, Ms. Kingman introduces another one. As a result, the story flows awkwardly.

The novel has the subtitle of A Novel of Slavery and Freedom. It truly should state A Novel of Slavery and Religion because the novel is more a diatribe against slavery and organized religion. One has no doubts as to the sentiments of Ms. Kingman. Those readers who are deeply religious may do well to avoid Original Sins because the religious Southerners are caricatured and portrayed in an extremely unflattering light. The discussions of slavery are distinctly religious in nature, as the slaveholders use the Bible to defend their actions, while Grace uses the same Bible to denounce slavery. The debate rages over many pages, much to the detriment of the main plot.

Original Sins is enjoyable but distracting. While the physical descriptions are beautiful and vivid, the dialogue is awful – stilted and trite. There is just too much of everything – too many different subjects, too many twists and turns, an ending that is too pat and too neatly accomplished. There are enjoyable sections of the novel; Ms. Kingman’s focus on the natural beauty and physical descriptions of nature are amazing and detailed enough to please the most discerning gardener. Unfortunately, descriptions do nothing to help improve the overall connectivity of a novel that tries too hard to address two extremely difficult topics while presenting itself as enlightened and amazingly well-rounded. Unfortunately, Original Sins falls prey to the adage, “jack of all trades, master of none,” as its tackling of such diverse topics is ultimately its downfall.

Thank you to the LibraryThing Early Reader program for this review copy!

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