Get ready to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway to receive a signed copy of “Ophelia’s War: The Story of a Mormon Turned Madam,” by Alison McLennan.
Synopsis: The priceless ruby necklace secretly given to fifteen-year-old Ophelia Oatman by
her dying mother isn’t easily given away—nor is her virginity. But Ophelia must
choose between them. The necklace becomes both Ophelia’s ticket to freedom and
shackles of shame. Fate, family legacy, hair color, the shape of her skull, sex,
survival, the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and the tension
between Mormons and Gentiles in the Utah Territory converge to shape her
destiny. Ophelia’s War chronicles the battles for love and survival fought by a
young frontier girl in the nineteenth century: her limited choices between
polygamy and prostitution, the high cost of keeping her jewels, and the
impossibility of protecting them. In an era when many women committed suicide so
they wouldn’t be shunned and face the shame of being damaged goods, the
rebellious and resilient Ophelia uses disgrace and the rubies of her ruin to
reinvent herself and win financial freedom. Yet what is the ultimate cost? Can
love and reconciliation triumph over her loss and shame?
Review originally posted June 15, 2016
I feel like whenever I am reviewing a book it’s always positive, and I’ve had people even mention that. One reason they are mostly positive is I try to really look at the synopsis before I read and review a book or check out other reviews if available, to see if I will enjoy reading it. Some things I may be unsure of but give them a chance and end up thinking it was great. When I received a request to review “Ophelia’s War: The Secret Story of a Mormon Turned Madam,” I didn’t hesitate because it sounded like a fantastic book. I completely underestimated this novel and had no idea how amazing and well-written it would be. Before even getting into my review, I rank this up there in my top ten reads ever, and believe me, I’ve read a lot.
This story begins with Ophelia Oatman, her half-brother Zeke (who is mixed ethnicity) and their parents heading to the Promised Land from Nebraska to Utah. Early in the novel, we learn that as Ophelia’s mother lays dying, she gives Ophelia a ruby necklace which they sew into her doll. Her mother tells her that it could bring her a fortune but it is also cursed. After the death of their parents, Ophelia and Zeke try to do the best they can and receive some help from the other Saints, but Ophelia fears becoming an older man’s 3rd or 4th wife. Their mother had written to their Uncle Luther before her death, so his impending arrival prevents her from being married off. However, upon his arrival, they learn that Uncle Luther is a card shark and gambler, and loves his whiskey. Ophelia also learns that Luther has come to Utah for only one thing, the ruby necklace. Luther’s arrival in Utah brings one heart-wrenching moment after another until Ophelia is separated from her brother and on the run across the frontier.
Once Ophelia is on her own and has left her home behind, the author takes us on an incredible journey of bravery, survival and coming of age. “Ophelia’s War” follows this young girl from her teenage years into adulthood, painting detailed pictures of what she does to survive and be successful as a madam in a small frontier town. On her journey to survive she goes by various names such as Elizabeth, Ruby Doll House, and Peach, but she remains the same brave woman from beginning to end. Ophelia is confronted with every type of person one could imagine encountering on the frontier. People try to kill her, people try to help her, people use her to gain wealth, and some people genuinely care. Moments in this novel will infuriate you and break your heart because it’s unimaginable that one girl could endure so much and survive. Other moments you will cheer for Ophelia when she seems at peace with herself and her decisions.
Alison McLennan’s writing in “Ophelia’s War” is simply fantastic. As you go through the novel it is moving, emotional and exciting all at once. To read this novel is to think that McLennan herself has lived on and survived the frontier, the Mormons, and the devious thieves that one could encounter. This is not a sweet, light-hearted novel but instead, an honest look at what one does to survive, whether ideal or not. Alison McLennan has gone above and beyond exquisite writing and story-telling in “Ophelia’s War,” setting the bar extremely high for other writers in her genre and beyond.