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Freedom Land.

by Martin L. Marcus Forge, January 2003 $24.95 ISBN 0-763-30482-1

Freedom Land is a credible first-time novel by Martin L. Marcus, who has since died. His writing does the historic adventure genre proud. The story is compelling enough to hold the reader's interest, but the book's real strength lies in the author's attention to the history of pre-Civil War Florida.

The author richly mines history for material and weaves it into all entertaining plot. History buffs will find meaty glimpses of Seminole Indian Wars, the Federal Indian Removal Act, the Dade Massacre and the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. They won't be disappointed as Martin uses real-life historic events to spin a riveting read.

The novel begins on a south Georgia plantation, where the reader gets an early introduction of the antagonists. General Duncan Clinch's motives are crystal clear. As a local land baron and slaveholder, he wants to hold on to white Southern society's way of life and he uses his considerable influence with local cotton growers, members of Congress, the military and the Seminole nation to do just that.

Marcus takes his time developing the book's heroes: the capable half-breed Billy Powell and the noble Abraham, the former military commander who runs the famed sanctuary deep in the Florida Everglades for runaway slaves. Powell is the product of a British officer and a proud Creek Indian woman. Abraham, a former slave who is sent away and becomes a military commander, returns to Florida in hopes of building a sanctuary there. His struggle is obvious. His movement understandably has drawn the ire of local plantation owners and government officials in Washington who covet Florida's undeveloped lands as much as they want to protect their slave labor.

The author captures the complex relations between slave owners and their slaves. Not every slave was interested in leaving the plantation, even if they abhorred slavery. By the same token, not every white mistreated their slaves. The author even addresses the historic reality of taboo sex and romance between a white slave owner and her former slave. If there is any fault with the book, and there's not much, it's the uneven development of some of the book's pivotal characters.

The book is a great first time effort, and will leave fans of the genre to hunger for more. Unfortunately, the author died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2002, less than a month before the publication of his first novel. That leaves Freedom Land to stand alone as a testimony to a budding novelist whose writing career was tragically cut short.

Douglas C. Lyons is a journalist who works in Florida.
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Author:Lyons, Douglas C.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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