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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Book Review: Sorrow Ledge (Spoiler Free!)

So early last year around Easter, I had the honor of alpha reading a novel called Sorrow Ledge by Kenneth Arbogast.  Recently, he let me know that said novel had been published, which is awesome.  He sent me a copy and asked for a review, which is what I am presently doing.  I included that bit just because reading the published version is a little different between picking it up for the first time and any subsequent times since you already know the plot, the twist, etc.  It's also a little different between an alpha reading (manuscript) and the final published version.  So that's my little prelude.

Anyway, Sorrow Ledge.  On to the review!  I'm terrible at these, so bear with me.  First, the premise on the back of the book.

America is in turmoil. In the wake of a disputed election, simmering political tensions threaten to boil over into violence. Ethnic, racial and religious intolerance are rampant. A divide remains between those who supported or opposed a recent war.

The year is 1880.

Sorrow Ledge is a historical novel set at a remote island along the coast of Maine. The light keepers must deal with a blizzard and a shipwreck. Among the survivors is a man angry about past injustices. Ancient grievances die hard.

A survivor of childhood abuse at the hands of his father, the ‘wickie’ who keeps the light is a Civil War veteran. Emotionally and physically scarred by his experiences, he has become pragmatic and resourceful in the face of challenge and tragedy. Now he must face his most dangerous enemy and his greatest possible loss.

Boy, that doesn't sound familiar, does it?  But really it's a Civil War-era maritime semi-romance fiction, following the life of Ben the wickie, his journey from the Civil War back home to a lonely lighthouse in Maine.

I'm personally a fan of the plot structure.  It's done in three parts, and runs as the middle part of the plot, followed by the beginning, followed by the end.  Fun times.

The plot itself is solid and beautiful.  It captures very well the struggles of a soldier as he encounters war, injury, heartache, and survival.  The detail that goes into the battle scenes as well as the maritime technicality, while I don't understand all of it, lends an authenticity and realism to the story that is just superb.  It can feel a little choppy at times, and there are instances of "blackout" that leave the reader wondering what happened, how much time has passed, and why was there a jump?

The characters are full and lively with quick wit and humor and deep thought.  Even though the story follows only Ben, the actions and dialogue of the surrounding characters give a certain depth that they are real people, that they have virtues and faults which are explored.  Even the dog is fun.  There are a few instances where certain dynamics arise that are not explored and must simply be taken at face value, which can be a tiny bit distracting.

It's a good story.  The ending as a whole is sort of comical; I don't know that it's meant to be that way.  The very end, the last chapter (before the epilogue) is simply superb.  I have a love-hate relationship with it, but I can't imagine it ending any other way.  I'm still trying to figure out the very, very, very end (the epilogue), but I think that's okay because it leaves it open to interpretation, and it feels very satisfying.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

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