Cordelia Owens can weave a hopeful story around anything and has long since won the hearts of Savannah’s society with her whimsy. Even when she receives word that her sweetheart has been lost during a raid on a Yankee vessel, she clings to hope and comes up with many a romantic tale of his eventual homecoming to reassure his mother and sister.
But Phineas Dunn finds nothing redemptive in the horrors of war. Struggling for months to make it home alive, he returns to Savannah injured and changed. The beliefs he once held about slavery and the entire war have been upended, and he’s all too sure that he is not the hero Delia seems determined to make him.
When the Confederacy deems Savannah a lost cause and the future wavers, Phin and Delia must both decide where the dreams of a new America will take them–and if they will go there together.
Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
Whenever I hear of Savannah in connection with the Civil War, I think of Sherman’s March to the Sea of 1864. The Union General arrived in Savannah shortly before Christmas and made the city a gift for President Lincoln. So, when I heard of a novel about Savannah and the war, I presumed Sherman’s March would be the focus of it. I didn’t realize that the Confederacy had given up on the coastal city as early as 1862 and that was the time frame in which Dreams of Savannah would be set.
I’ve read several of Roseanna M. White’s previous books. They were all set in England and were connected to each other through the settings and characters. Dreams of Savannah is a one-off with no familiar faces for White’s long-time readers to appreciate, and, honestly, I really didn’t like Cordelia and Phin at first. They felt fake and insipid, with no real depth to them. I couldn’t find it in myself to care about them, or the story. It took until chapter six for the narrative to grab me, and that’s thanks to the introduction of Luther. I don’t want to describe him here, because he’s a major game changer, but I’d love to read a novel with him as the main character. What was his back story? How did he come to be the man readers get to know here?
Since this is a book about the south during the Civil War, there is naturally plenty of discourse regarding slavery. Delia’s “dearest friend” is a house slave assigned to her as a maid. She tends to take her for granted, believing the woman will always be with her. It’s only when secrets come to light that Delia starts seeing the slaves as human beings, and she starts gathering their stories. Phin’s opinion starts changing once he meets Luther and is drawn into his new friend’s situation. White doesn’t only look at how her main characters interact with those of a different skin color; she shares the historical reality of slavery in Georgia and how difficult it was to change the system. According to Dreams of Savannah, state laws made it almost impossible for benevolent owners to free slaves. I couldn’t immediately find information to back this up, but I knew from previous research on the issues that free men and women were often not allowed to stay in southern states or were permitted to enter states such as Georgia. This is something that features in Luther’s narrative. Many slaves made the hard decision to run towards Union encampments when they captured southern land, often leaving behind loved ones, and this is another aspect of slavery on which White focuses.
Delia’s stories didn’t appeal to me. I appreciated her imaginative writing, but her sharing what some might call “flights of whimsy” struck me as childish and maybe misleading. After all, if Phin hadn’t come home might she have been accused of giving his family false hope? She also spent a lot of time daydreaming about her handsome prince, when my experience has taught me to appreciate reality. Again, what if Phin hadn’t returned? Phin, on the other hand, learned fast to be grounded in what was real, even if it did feel overwhelming at times.
Overall, before the end I thought that this was an okay book but not one that excited me. And then I got to the end and discovered something had happened on a subconscious level. I didn’t think this book would emotionally grab me as much as it did, and I got a lump in my throat. The ending is a moment of hope and reassurance, something that IS needed during dark times. Fort Pulaski falls in the final chapter, but I got the feeling that, despite everything, Delia and Phin would be alright. And that’s why I give this book a top rating.
Publisher: Bethany House (A division of Baker Publishing)
Publication Date: 05 January 2021
Roseanna M. White is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels that span several continents and thousands of years. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to find their way into her books… to offset her real life, which is blessedly ordinary.
Roseanna M. White’s Website https://www.roseannamwhite.com/