Leila Meacham’s new novel, Somerset, begins in 1835 South Carolina with the stories of three of the state’s most prominent, plantation-owning families: the Warwicks, DuMonts and Tolivers. Silas Toliver has been left out of his father’s will. With his father dead and all of his family’s land and money bequeathed to his brother, Silas has two choices: Stay in South Carolina, where he will live the rest of his life without ever owning the expansive plantation he aches for, or follow his best friend and counterpart Jeremy Warwick to Texas, where fear of the unknown meets promises of fertile land and opportunity.
Anyone who has read Roses, the prequel to this novel, knows the three families end up in Texas somehow. But the “somehow” turns into a story you do not want to miss. Like its predecessor, Somerset also spans three generations of characters and nearly 100 years of history, only the Civil War and the Texas Revolution are now the historical backdrops.
Meacham writes with the authority of someone who has not only studied history but has sincerely considered how it affects those living within it. Characters do not merely leave as they enter. They change. Though they may remind us of ones we’ve seen in other novels, Meacham reminds us that even the most unlikely characters can change their views as they encounter new people and new experiences. Such changes make the novel come alive in ways you’ve never thought possible of a novel set in the 1800s, and should recommend it to readers of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
Somerset has everything a compelling historical epic calls for: Love and war, friendship and betrayal, opportunity and loss, and everything in between.