Title: The Daughter of Union County
Author: Francine Thomas Howard
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Copyright: August 1, 2016
Format: E-Book, 433 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, African American Fiction, Family Saga, Tragedy
Price: $6.99 [Amazon Paperback], $4.99 [Kindle/KindleUnlimited], $1.99 [Audible], $8.78 [Barnes & Noble Paperback], $13.50 [Barnes & Noble Audiobook], $9.99 [Google Play], $9.99 [iBooks]
Fourteen years after the end of slavery, Lord Henry Hardin and his wife, Lady Bertha, enjoy an entitled life in Union County, Arkansas. Until he faces a devastating reality: Bertha is unable to bear children. If Henry doesn’t produce an heir, the American branch of his family name will die out. So Henry, desperate to preserve his aristocratic family lineage, does the unthinkable.
When Salome, a former slave and Henry’s mistress, gives birth to a white-skinned, blue-eyed daughter, Henry orders a reluctant Lady Bertha to claim the child as their own…allowing young Margaret to pass into the white world of privilege.
As Margaret grows older, unaware of her true parentage, devastating circumstances threaten to shroud her in pain and shame…but then, ultimately, in revelation. Despite rumors about Margaret’s true identity, Salome is determined to transform her daughter’s bitter past into her secure future while Henry goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his legacy. Spanning decades and generations, marked by tragedy and redemption, this unforgettable saga illuminates a family’s fight for their name, for survival, and for true freedom.
Daughter of Union County is one of those books that I was beyond excited to read. The title, book cover, and the blurb really caught my attention. Little did I realize when I started reading that this book would be a struggle to finish and (even though the author admitted this to be a work of historical fiction) full of historical fallacies.
Taking place in Union County, Arkansas, the story recounts the legacy of Lord Henry Hardin, Duke of Union County and the only woman he has ever loved, Salome. The young and unfortunate Salome, daughter of an enslaved woman, has no choice when Henry Hardin makes her his mistress. From their union springs forth a new dynasty of aristocratic Hardins: Margaret, Waylon, and Thomas (called Tom-Tom). While the Civil War and Reconstruction are over, the truth is that not much has changed in Union County. The African American inhabitants are constantly dehumanized and trodden underfoot by the wealthier caucasian inhabitants as was the case in the days of the Antebellum and Reconstrunction South. Since Henry Hardin’s wife, Lady Bertha has failed to give him a much-desired heir, he is overjoyed when a daughter with pale white skin and blue eyes is born to Salome. He commands his wife to accept the new baby girl, called Margaret, as her daughter. It is this moment that irrevocably changes the lives of everyone, setting off a chain of events that will forever alter the Hardin family. With this cruel charade, he denies Salome her daughter and forces Bertha to raise Margaret as her daughter, beating her when she doesn’t obey.
Even though I found Francine Thomas Howard’s plot to certainly be unique, it bordered on the mythological. In order for one to fully appreciate this work, one has to suspend belief in reality. It was difficult for me to reconcile the fact that Henry Hardin was the “Duke of Union County,” Bertha Hardin was “Lady Bertha,” and that James Hardin was “Duke of Maryland.” Ms. Howard admittedly stated that she took creative license but America did fight a Revolutionary War against Great Britain and we do not have a peerage system in this country. The flow of the story was steady for the most part but did have its moments where it was slow and I confess that I skimmed forward pages. Not something I ever like to do if I can help it.
The characterization was lacking in such a way that I found it difficult to connect emotionally with most of the characters. For the most part, the characters came across as flat characters and somewhat stereotypical. For example, Henry was the abusive patriarchal husband who beat his wife and loved another woman. In regards to the unfortunate Salome (who I would have loved to see plunge a dagger into Henry Hardin’s back), I had genuine sympathy for her but she frustrated me. It would have been nice to see her stand up to Henry. Maybe that is something that I, as a twenty-first century woman, enjoy seeing in films, television, and literature. Maybe it wasn’t something that an African American woman could do in that time period. The tone and atmosphere was dark and depressing which, considering the main characters and the time in which they lived, it isn’t too surprising.
While conceptually Daughter of Union County was an intriguing idea, I feel it fell short in the execution. That is unfortunate because I really wanted to like this book.