cover image The American Queen

The American Queen

Vanessa Miller. Thomas Nelson, $18.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8407-0887-8

Miller (The Light on Halsey Street) captivates with a propulsive historical based on the true story of a group of formerly enslaved people who founded a utopian society in the Appalachian mountains in the 1860s. Louella has been enslaved on the Montgomery plantation in Mississippi for “all her twenty-four years” when the end of the Civil War brings freedom and shattering tragedy all at once. Devastated and adrift after her father is lynched, Louella hesitantly agrees to marry the much-older Reverend William Montgomery, who wants to stay on the plantation and work for its owner—a plan that becomes intolerable when their pay dries up. Louella insists they leave the plantation and build the Kingdom of Happy Land she’s envisioned in her dreams, a place “free from fear” for “her and for people who looked like her.” The couple and other formerly enslaved people migrate to the border between South and North Carolina, where they purchase land. As Louella’s heart begins to soften towards her husband, she distinguishes herself as a powerful influence over the community and the two become king and queen of Happy Land. Despite instances of somewhat wooden language (“Would the air of freedom be different, or would it be as stale and unrelenting as slavery air?”), readers will be won over by Louella’s gumption, optimism, and tenacity. Miller brings to enthralling life a hidden gem in American history. (Jan.)