Accidents of Providence

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

6 of 18
Accidents of Providence
272 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
It's 1649 England, and the living is not exactly easy. King Charles I has just been beheaded, and the country is embroiled in a nasty civil war. If you're a woman, life is especially complicated—big surprise! You're permitted only the lowliest, most menial work, you're scorned (at least publicly) if you engage in unmarried sex, and should you happen to become pregnant out of wedlock...well, you get the picture. But don't feel sorry for Rachel Lockyer, the delightfully seditious heroine of Stacia M. Brown's Accidents of Providence (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); she's about to go on trial for allegedly murdering her illegitimate baby, but she remains defiantly evasive about what did or did not happen. ("Were you in labor on November the first?" she is asked. "Sir, I have labored my whole life," she replies.) As the story of Rachel's putative crime unfolds, Brown introduces a wonderful cast of supporting characters—one comically crotchety prosecutor, Rachel's Huguenot (read: not to be totally trusted) boss at the glove factory, and a friend who tries to defend Rachel even after Rachel has stopped defending herself. For all its period detail, this debut seems remarkably modern in its depiction of love and politics—proof that a historical novel can be educational and entertaining, and nothing like homework.
— Sara Nelson