Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
disclosure: I did not finish reading The
Blood of Heaven. I did, however, read about 130 pages of this 453-page
novel, so will offer my impressions for other readers who may be curious. Other reviewers have praised this novel (see especially the Washington Post review).
The Blood of Heaven interested me because I heard it was inspired by the Aaron Burr
conspiracy. Burr was tried for treason in 1807, accused of plotting to found
an independent nation in parts of the American Southwest and Mexico. The novel focuses on a previous episode, the 1804 Kemper Rebellion in west Florida (though I did not read far enough to reach the rebellion, or for
Burr to play a role in the novel).
fictional Angel Woolsack is the son of an itinerant fire-and-brimstone preacher
who forced Angel to chew on still-hot coals, a taste of hellfire. This
detail, given in the Prologue, sets a tone of vivid and consistent brutality. Angel develops a talent for preaching, and he and his father are ministering to a poor settlement in Louisiana when they happen across another preacher, Deacon
Kemper, and his sons. After some rough and tumble testing of each other, Angel
and Samuel Kemper become fast friends. And when Angel's father comes to a violent end, the two young men set off on a journey, preaching and thieving to support
Wascom's robust, rhythmic prose recalls the sonorous tones of the King James Bible. The setting is richly conveyed; descriptions of the settlers' dugout dwellings make them almost tangibly real. It interested me to explore how an apparently sincere set of religious beliefs, however twisted, could coexist with the overtly violent and exploitive activities these men pursued, most often without remorse. For me, though, no insights glimmered, and the relentless brutality, without any sense of striving for a goal I could in any way sympathize with, made it just too hard for me to keep reading. (2013, 457 pages including an Author's Note with a selected bibliography)More about The Blood of Heaven at Powell's Books or The Book Depository