Note: I’ll be interviewing this wonderful author when she tours Australia next month. If there’s a question you’d love to have her answer, please email me or post on my Facebook page. If not, stay tuned as I ask her about her writing patterns and research methods, how she got into the business of being author, and of course, the inspirations behind her wonderful stories.
Amongst many of my family and friends, I am the obsessive reader, and I have worn my crown with pride for as long as I can remember. Most of the time, the good-natured, but teasing, comments that have come my way about my reading resulted from the fact that those whom I was surrounded by had no interest in whatever tales I was engrossed in, except in the case of The Bronze Horseman. This was probably one of the only books I had not heard of before my friends and family started reading it, and before I took it with me on my European sojourn circa 2008, I had never even heard of the author or her other works. But everyone was obsessed with the love story of Alexander and Tatiana, and now, four years later, there are still friends reading it and falling in love with the couple much like I did on the island of Santorini many years ago.
This month, Paullina Simons, the author behind the best-selling trilogy, released a prequel* to the series. Children of Liberty (Harper Collins, $30) tells the story of Alexander’s fated parents at turn-of-the-century Boston. Gina Attaviano sails with her brother Salvo and mother Mimoo from Sicily to Boston’s Freedom Docks, where the family encounter Ben Shaw and Harry Barrington, dashing young men trying to find their place in the big, wide world.
Much to the immigrant family’s chagrin, 15 year old Gina doesn’t exactly behave with the respectful air of a 19th century woman, although her forward ways and exotic good looks are enough to charm Shaw. Of course, this only means a clash between her brother and the dignified white boys working for Harry’s father, himself a man with very strict rules about business, propriety, life and pleasure. Rules that consume every conversation with his wayward son, who cares for nothing but intellectual ideas, politics, economics and philosophy.
As time goes by, the fates of the families become intertwined, and Harry and Gina long to be together. But like all spirited stories of love and longing, they’re only driven apart by the expectations of his blue-blooded, first-family status and the limits placed on her rebelliousness. But time and fate have other plans, and when they finally question into their hearts’ true desires, they discover that the companion to love is choice. The choice of being torn, or being torn apart. The choice of what they can’t have, and what they can’t be without. A choice that will leave a trail of destruction for themselves and everything they hold dear, setting in motion a future we already know the ending of.
Like all of Simons’ writings, this book was an easy pleasure. Simons is gifted with an ability to set historically-rich scenes, believable characters and plot lines that have you hooked. But where The Bronze Horseman left me with a wonderful sense of peace at its finish, Children of Liberty leaves many questions unanswered. For starters, most of the book seemed slow, spanning what seemed like years of irrelevant dragging of events and characters, and leaving me wondering where it was all going. This seemed like more of a complexity in the context of the trilogy, where Gina tells her son that she married his father when she was 19, yet in the prequel they weren’t even in contact at that point in time.
Apart from that, I struggled to really understand the characters and their motives, though eventually I could see how some of their traits made Alexander. But the action was left to the end, and after three quarters of novel, I was well and truly craving it. Unfortunately, by the time it came around, it was rushed, and like those readers who’ve already reviewed it internationally (I did a little research to see if I was just being a glum), I found the ending to be almost chopped at the crux. Overall, it was still an enjoyable read, but unfortunately I am not filled with the same understanding I was filled with at the completion of the trilogy. Perhaps Gina and Harry will be back to tease me with more of their story, despite the fact that all readers of the trilogy know how it ends.
Despite my slight disappointment, I ravenously read the book and devoured every aspect of it. I have to credit Simons for keeping me on the edge of my seat, wondering if Gina and Harry will return to answer the things I’m still not privvy to (I hope this is the case, because I can be quite nosey). I’ll still happily recommend it to those who love Alexander and Tatiana as much as I did, because in reading Children of Liberty, they’re likely to encounter more of the lessons in life that are a true mark of Simons’ writing: that there’s more to life than duty and expectation, that love is destructive when it is both blessed and tainted, that honesty and loyalty – to the self and to the cruel realities of life – are the honourable traits that give definition to courage…and ammo to a stellar story.
If you’ve read The Bronze Horseman, The Bridge to Holy Cross, or The Summer Garden, I’d love to hear your thoughts below, on twitter or on my Facebook page. Did you love the trilogy? Do you think you’ll read the prequel?
*Disclaimer: I’m actually not averse to prequels, having two months ago outlined the story for what will be my third book, a prequel to the third and like this one, the recounting of the love story between an immigrant girl and a WASP guy who happen to be the parents of one of my characters. Although it’s going to be interesting to write, it’s going to be less dramatic in its outcome than Children of Liberty is. Just had to put it out there lest I be branded a copy cat.