I’ve read all of Tracy Chevalier’s books, so I was excited to get THE LAST RUNAWAY from Amazon as a treat for myself (SOME SPOILERS AHEAD). In this interesting take on the pre-Civil War experience, Honor Bright, an English Quaker, has come to Ohio with her sister who is to marry. Sadly her sister dies during the journey and Honor arrives alone, with few prospects and only knowing her was-once-to-be-brother-in-law. She first stays in town with a milliner, Belle, who is as saucy and tough as she is kind-hearted. Honor sews for her and rests up before the rest of her journey. However, Belle’s brother, Donovan, is lurking around. He’s a slave catcher and he is relentless in his job. Honor finds herself strangely drawn towards him, while she is at the same time repulsed by his heartless undertakings.
When Honor finally arrives at the was-once-to-be-brother-in-law’s house, his brother has also just died and the widow is keeping house with him. Since two’s company and three’s a crowd, Honor jumps at the chance of marrying a kind Quaker man (Jack Haymaker) and joins his family of dairy farmers: a surly mother and a quiet, unfriendly sister. But Honor is still thinking about the runaway slaves that she sees coming through Ohio, and she wants to help. This causes a huge conflict with her family, because of past difficulties they suffered for helping slaves escape. Will Honor follow her conscious? Or will she bend to the will of the Haymakers? And what will become of the tension between her and Donovan?
As mentioned before, I’ve read all of Chevalier’s books, but this one seems different to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but the writing seemed simpler (not that that’s a bad thing, just an observation). I liked this story and I certainly kept reading, but – to be honest – sometimes Honor Bright irritated me. She seemed to just go through the motions of life (until the end), while men regularly fall in love with her and women are jealous of her. She is meek and passive and then does what she wants. She retreats into silence for a while to basically punish her family. She leaves her husband and ultimately makes him chose the life he’s carved out for himself or life with her. I found her selfish and self-centered and immature. The ending held some brightness to it, and I had hope that Honor would go on and become more woman and less girl.
Fans of Chevalier or of mid-1800’s US historical fiction will most probably enjoy this novel!