“A Rebel Heart” by Beth White brings to light the Reconstruction Era with a gripping story. It is a valuable tale of love and forgiveness between the characters and as a nation. Readers will be sympathetic not to the brutal plantation slave owner, but to those who became collateral damage. White shows that during this time period nothing is black and white, but much more is gray.
Three sisters, Selah, Joelle and Aurora Daughtry try to save their Mississippi home after the Civil War. With the help of a Yankee, Levi Riggins, a retired Union officer now a Pinkerton agent, they agree to convert the plantation to a hotel.
“I thought to make the main heroine an improvised Southern belle who grew up on a plantation and now years after the war’s end has a lot to lose,” White said. “I wanted to add tension to the story by making the hero a retired Union Officer who served in Mississippi. I also had the Southern family depend on their freed slaves to help them survive.”
An early scene has drunk Union soldiers beating and raping a Southern woman, the mother of the Daughtery daughters. White has readers realize that many Southerners also suffered during and after the Civil War. She presents both sides of the story, the rebel father who is prejudiced and resents how his way of life has been destroyed, the daughters, Selah, Joelle and Aurora, who want a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs, and the freed slaves who attempt to use their skills to make a living.
The ruthless scene was based on the memoirs of Benjamin Grierson.
“When I read about him I knew I had to write in this scene,” White said. “He commanded a cavalry brigade, raiding many Confederate railroad and military facilities throughout Mississippi. Grant used this to divert attention while he took Vicksburg. Throughout the memoir he wrote what his men did, some of it was very brutal.”
The mystery comes into play with Levi’s investigation into several train robberies and explosions. He wears two hats in this story. Someone seeking the perpetrators who have slipped away near the plantation, and a hotel management agent. His cover allows him to remain close to Selah, able to investigate the plantation and his initial suspicions of her while pursuing his attraction to her. The Southern and Northern gap is bridged with the chemistry that exists between the Union officer, Levi and the Southern belle, Selah. She agrees to his plan to develop the run-down estate into a glamorous hotel, completely unaware that Levi only proposed the idea as a way to keep his cover as he continues to search for the robbers.
The author wrote Selah “as the oldest of three sisters, who is determined, courageous, independent, lady-like, cultured and tender.
“I think practical is her middle name,” White said. “She is a woman of her era, so she is bound by certain cultural aspects. For example, she was at a Southern boarding school where she took on Abolitionist views. But when her father found out and told her to come home, she did not argue. As she grew into womanhood she chose to remain unmarried because she did not want to be bound by social morals, and never wanted to surrender her autonomy to another person. She figured out how to succeed without compromising her own moral values and personal integrity. I hope readers have some sympathy for her since she lost almost everything.
“I wrote her counterpart Levi to be courageous, brave, chivalrous, protective and moralistic. He fought in the Union army to abolish slavery. But he has another side, a romanticist. This comes out in his appreciation of music, able to play classical music on the piano.”
Readers will learn about the exploration of the economic and social devastation in the South. Each character had a different way of trying to rebuild their society and life, striving to create a better future with the help of a Yankee no less. With a plot full of action and intrigue and many likable characters, this novel becomes a must read.