Book Reviews

Book Review: What Passes As Love

What Passes As Love

By Trisha R. Thomas

Published in 2021

335 pages

Dahlia Holt grew up alongside her half-sisters on the Vesterville Plantation in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  The difference between them:  they were free while she was a slave, despite nearly identical appearances.  On the eve of the Civil War, on Dahlia’s 16th birthday, she was separated from the Holt matriarch and her sisters and mistaken for a white woman by Timothy Ross, a young Englishman.  Taking her chance, Dahlia leaves the city with Timothy and his brother and soon finds herself ensconced at their plantation, engaged to Timothy as Lily Dove.

But “freedom” isn’t all she dreamed it would be, since she lives on tenterhooks that her real identity will be found out.  Not only must she navigate a suspicious family, she must also keep her identity from the slaves at her new home.  War is declared and her husband signs up to fight for the Confederacy.  During his going-away party, Dahlia comes face to face with her half-sisters while unrest amongst the slaves also threatens her carefully contrived identity.  With no other choice, she makes one last desperate bid for freedom.

There’s a second point of view character, her childhood friend Bo, that I didn’t even comment on in the summary.  Bo is torn between trying to protect Dahlia while also not drawing attention to himself, something that’s nearly impossible once he’s sold to the Ross’s and his best friend is mistress of the manor.  

There’s a lot to like about this book.  I’m a fan of southern and civil war fiction.  I’m also a fan of alternating points of view.  Both characters were well thought out and fairly well fleshed out, although I think I enjoyed Bo’s sections more than Dahlia’s/Lily’s.  This had to do with what I expect from a first person point of view.  Dahlia was in first person, but she was as distant as Bo, who was in third person. A bit of distance in third person close is fine, but not first person.  I need to be in their head.  I would urge every author writing in first person to go through with a heavy hand and kill every filter.  Every thought, felt, saw, smelt, tasted, etc.  They only serve to keep a distance between your reader and your character.   

For Dahlia, while the tension was evident in her dealings with the Ross family, I almost feel like things were a bit too easy for her.  After she made the decision to leave Hampton with Timothy Ross, she acted in a knee-jerk fashion or things happened for her.  In other words, she reacted to external stimuli most of the time. Particularly in the scene that wrapped everything up.  Despite setting it in motion, the outcome had nothing to do with her or what she did or didn’t do, it all hinged on her brother-in-law.  And given that he was the key to the conclusion, I would have loved to have been in his head but alas, the author didn’t give me that.

Final word – it was a good story but I think it could have had more oomph.  I gave it three stars.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

My rating system:

5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.

4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.

3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.

2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

Albert Camus

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