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Letters from an Age of Reason


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No less a literary personage than E.L. Doctorow took Hague under his wing while she was pursing an M.F.A. in the graduate writing program at NYU, and the sumptuous writing characterizing her historical romance debut makes it clear why. Set in New York, New Orleans, London and France in the 1860s, this is the story of two supremely star-crossed lovers. Aubrey "Bree" Paxton is born into slavery, a "high-yellow" house servant whose skin is so light he can pass for white. Arabella Leeds is an impulsive young Northerner of good breeding, as imprisoned by society customs as Bree is by slavery. When fortune leads both of them to Europe, they begin to fall in love before Arabella realizes that back home Bree is considered black. Hague engages in a stunning high-wire act, telling her story in diary form and maintaining two distinctly separate narrative voices those of dignified Bree and spirited Arabella until they intertwine at the end in a duet in which skin color is of no importance. The author expertly paints the problems of individuals living ahead of their time while exploring the theme of bondage, both real and metaphorical. When the Civil War, always on the periphery, does intrude, it is with subtly mind-boggling reminders of the human cost. By artfully blending reason and emotion, Hague renders what could have been a highly improbable tale a movingly believable one. Agent, Jane Gelfman. (Sept.) Forecast: Excellently done, though the story is perhaps overly familiar, this hefty novel sports a striking sepia- and gold-toned jacket and will be supported by a major ad/promo campaign and New England author tour. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Spirited, intelligent, and passionate, Arabella Leeds finds it nearly impossible to play the self-effacing, subservient role expected of a virtuous, well-brought-up daughter of wealthy Victorian parents. Constantly in trouble for defending abused servants and trying to unmask dubious spiritualists, she despairs of ever finding congenial companions. Then she is introduced to two young, lively, expatriate American women who not only share her serious interests but offer her the chance to experience parts of London and society that would appall her family. On one of their illicit outings, Arabella makes the acquaintance of Aubrey Bennett, an educated and sensitive former slave who feels as lost and out of place in his world as Arabella does in hers. Their instant bond plunges them into a tumultuous affair that nearly destroys them both. While their relationship is the dominating thread, it is only a fraction of this richly developed and thoroughly engrossing tale. Well-developed secondary characters and subplots make this debut novel difficult to put down. Highly recommended for all collections. Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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