Susan Diane Black Blackmon
December 22, 2022
Publisher: Susan Diane Black Blackmon
382 pages, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1-959980-01-8
“The land was good; the vermin that dwelled there were not.”
Celey by Susan Diane Black Blackmon is the second book in the Heritage Series. This continuing fiction is steeped in rich familial history and written for all ages to enjoy. The first book, Emma, highlights the story of Emma Jackson, who is the daughter of Jane Tilman and granddaughter of Celey Dobbs. While the books in this series can stand alone, they are better together because they show how life in the late 1800s and later was fraught with hardship, illness, and murder, but also filled with love, family bonds, hard work, and hope.
After a brief historical introduction, Celey begins on a dramatic note, with the villainous Tom Anderson harassing young Celey Dobbs and her little sister in the mercantile in Waldron, Arkansas, in Scott County. Anderson wants to buy the prime land in the county and is full of revenge and bedevilment when some families refuse to sell, including the Dobbs family. This scene in the mercantile sets the stage for the entire book, with Anderson remaining a savage thorn in everyone’s side, and with Daniel Tilman rescuing young Celey from Anderson’s clutches and losing his heart to her in the process. The rugged land and daily toils are difficult enough without having a crooked sheriff in Tom Anderson’s pocket. Despite the corruption and constant threat, the entire community is determined to fortify their small town and surrounding farms with a church and a school and come together to thrive and grow.
Blackmon quickly lures the reader into Celey’s sojourn as a daughter, sister, wife, and mother in Arkansas and finally in Texas. The network of families in Celey portrays a microcosm of life in the late 1800s in a severe yet innovative environment, including the start of the Common School Law, the irresistible call of the California Gold Rush, and the promise of fertile land and a better life in Texas for ranchers, farmers, and cowboys. Blackmon deftly juxtaposes the heartbreaking reality of losing children, spouses, and other family and friends with the joy of social gatherings, worship, and camaraderie among relatives and neighbors alike.
This fiction is Christian based and tightly reinforced with a strong historical foundation and the day-to-day challenges, failures, and successes of regular folk trying to eke out a living reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. Blackmon presents readers with a cherished gift in this Heritage Series because the simple tales of these characters will transport readers back to a time when much of the country was still wild, untamed, and dangerous, yet beautiful and full of promise and adventure.
The pacing is steady, with the occasional dramatic and even startling spike mixed with the prosaic activities to keep readers engaged and entertained. Several sketches throughout offer interesting glimpses into the interworking of Celey’s amazing story, and a few recipes, such as cold biscuit puddin’ and brandy sauce, at the end will entice readers to try some pioneer fare. Through such an engaging historical fiction, the people, both good and evil, in Celey and the entire Heritage Series will surely encourage readers to research their own family history or simply acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of those who valiantly forged new paths across a rough and daunting frontier.