Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit is set in the Plymouth colony in the 1620s, from the perspective of two women who reside in the colony: Alice Bradford, the Governor’s wife, and Eleanor Billington, the wife of the first man hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts by the pilgrims. I chose to read this book because the historical realism is appealing to me. I enjoy when authors take a real historical event and embellish it such that it becomes a novel instead of a history book. These people existed. The murder in question happened and a man was hanged. Nesbit imagines the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters based on historical accounts.
The second reason I wanted to read this was that my husband is descended from these colonists and that adds a little bit of interest to me. For example, when I read of the Salem witch trials, I can show my daughters which people are their ancestors. Third, it was listed as a thrilling suspense book.
Novels like this, based on historical events, are useful for authors that want to teach a lesson or make a political statement. Nesbit tells these stories from the perspective of women instead of men, and as women are usually erased from history, this is a nice change. The book doesn’t seem to really touch on the unforgiving conditions or mention the illness and food scarcity much. There is a short mention by Alice Bradford that the Pilgrims built on Native American land and would have not been successful without their help.
The book really didn’t have much suspense. There was the murder, the trial, the hanging. The author tried to build some suspense by saying a few “perhaps we’d have behaved differently if we knew what was coming” but the book itself didn’t really have any drama. I would think those that are really into colonial American History would enjoy the tale just to see some of the historical figures they know come to life, but they don’t really come to life in a big way.
The author does try to treat the puritan government as if they’re hypocritical and corrupt as the government they left, but it just doesn’t work. My overall impression of this book was that it was an easy read, simple, and kind of boring. I’d love to see more books like this from this author and others – books that take real history and turn them into fiction. I’d love to read a novelization of the Whiskey Rebellion or Galveston on the first Juneteenth.
This book was one of those with a great elevator pitch, but it just didn’t follow through. I appreciate what the author was doing so I will likely read her again if she comes out with more historical fiction based on real events.
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