With This Pledge by Tamera Alexander
Series: Carnton #1
Genre: Christian, Historical Romance
Dates Read: February 19-21, 2019
Synopsis: On the night of November 30, 1864, a brutal battle in Franklin, Tennessee, all but decimates the Confederacy and nearly kills Captain Roland Ward Jones. A decorated Mississippi sharpshooter, Jones has a vision on the battlefield and, despite the severity of his wounds, believes his life will be spared. But a life without his leg, he can’t abide. He compels Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clouston—governess to the McGavock family at the Carnton mansion—to intervene should the surgeon decide to amputate. True to her word, Lizzie speaks on his behalf and saves not only the captain’s leg but also his life.
When a fourteen-year-old soldier dies in Lizzie’s arms that night, the boy’s final words, whispered with urgency, demand that Lizzie deliver them to their intended recipient. But all she has is the boy’s first name. And, as she soon discovers, there’s no record of him ever having enlisted. How can she set out alone across a land so divided by war and hatred to honor her pledge? Even more, does she dare accept Captain Jones’s offer to accompany her? As he coalesces at Carnton, romance has blossomed between him and Lizzie—a woman already betrothed to a man she does not love.
From the pages of history and the personal accounts of those who endured the Battle of Franklin, Tamera Alexander weaves the real-life love letters between Captain Roland Ward Jones and Elizabeth Clouston into a story of unlikely romance first kindled amid the shadows of war.
This was so beautiful — the story, the characters, the writing, the way Tamera Alexander wove these threads together. Quite a few moments in the book were some of the most touching I’ve ever read, and I was on the verge of tears more times than I could count — especially when Lizzie is with Tempy. Ugh, my heart.
I know tons of research went into this novel, and it shows. Plus, to be able to craft a novel from love letters is truly spectacular. Alexander should be proud of her work; it’s truly amazing. She has a “Truth or Fiction?” section on her website where you can read about her research behind the novel and see pictures of the people involved in the story. But, be warned, spoilers abound, so only go there if you’ve either read the book or don’t care if you get spoiled. I really appreciate that she’s made this available to her readers. I love learning about history and visiting historic homes and sites, so seeing Carnton in person is definitely on my list now.
I was a little worried going into this book about how it would handle the issues of slavery and racism, but I was pleasantly surprised. Alexander brought up the arguments used during that time (e.g., “it’s just the way of the world”) and turned them on their heads. When Roland has to rely on his manservant George all the time, with Lizzie’s help he realizes how hypocritical and immoral he’s been. He worries about how he can view his father and grandfather with the respect they’re due for raising him to be the man he is, while also acknowledging that they did immoral things. That’s something we need to talk about still today. I live in Virginia, and Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. I’ve visited the White House of the Confederacy more than once. Museums preserve the history, while also presenting what was wrong and what was behind the war. Then you have the other side: every day I drive by houses where people proudly wave their battle flags because it’s their history, but they don’t acknowledge what was wrong about it. We can’t — and shouldn’t — erase the bad parts of our history, but we can discuss and learn from it. Recently, some people vandalized a pillar at Tuckahoe Plantation, Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home in Goochland. They painted the words, “We profit off slavery,” on the column. Our entire country profited off slavery. Should we overthrow the government and start over? No. Nothing good will come of these kinds of reactions. We grow from our mistakes and become better. We know we’ve profited from slavery as a whole, but that doesn’t mean we should damage the property of individuals who do not profit off of it today.
I’m happy to say that this is the best piece of Christian fiction I’ve ever read. Not once did it feel preachy or forced; it felt totally natural and moving. This is also my favorite book of the year so far, and I want everyone to read it. I’m definitely adding Alexander’s other books to my TBR; she is a masterful writer.
Oh yeah, so before Lizzie even meets Roland, she’s already engaged to her childhood friend — oops. But the way their relationship is handled is done well, and there wasn’t too much angst involved. For that, I am very grateful. The romance was the best kind of slow burn, with furtive glances, accidental hand-grabbing, and Roland full-on longingly staring at Lizzie as she reads A Christmas Carol to the soldiers and children. When Lizzie would sit by Roland as he was injured, I wanted to physically push them closer together so they would touch. This book definitely has what I call the “hand vibe,” by which I mean:
- “Because real heroes don’t have to wear big shiny medals on their chests to show others who they are or to prove themselves worthy. No, sir. Real heroes are the ones who do what’s right even when no one’s looking, and who give up something for someone else even when it costs them dearly.” (126)
- “And while I wish I could award you a citation of merit as well, I fear, madam, that the medal fine enough to reward you for your courage and honor has not yet been forged.” (127)
- People had to be taught those kinds of preconceptions. She knew that from experince. She’d been teaching for over sixteen years, and on more than one occasion when she’d been outside with her youngest pupils, either taking a walk or sitting beneath a tree studying, slave children would wander up and join them. And the children would talk and play together, without any thought of their color or their differences. It was only once her pupils were older, after they’d watched and learned from their parents and other adults, that the animosity and prejudgment took hold. And once that hideous seed had taken root, it seemed only Jesus himself could restore what had been ruined. (352)