Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga) by Anna Belfrage
Winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion
It is Matthew Graham’s misfortune that Like Chaff in the Wind opens not only in an unwelcoming city, but also one in the grips of a day “cold and dreary in the icy January winds.” This unfortuitous beginning, already weighed down by an ongoing battle between Matthew and his estranged brother, is not aided by the former’s apprehension over a recent row turned violent and the consequences that now seem to be stalking him.
The brothers’ past history includes a son born to the woman first married to Matthew and later Luke, with the child’s birth in close enough proximity to the transition to cast doubt on which is the biological father. This being 1661 Scotland, paternity testing is not an option and the most recent sibling battle ended with Matthew angrily and unceremoniously slicing off Luke’s nose. While not unprovoked, his action was foolhardy, especially given Matthew’s long acquaintance with his brother’s rage.
Therefore when Matthew sees and is threatened by his brother on this same day, is inclined to draw up papers transferring guardianship of his family to his brother-in-law should anything happen to him, and then ignores that in-law’s plea to follow up on this straight away…well, in this reviewer’s case the result was an immediate red flag and a burst of raised voice when less than a page away Matthew’s life is dramatically and cruelly altered, perhaps forever, if he cannot find a way out.
His brother having had him abducted and set on a path to indentured servitude in the colonies, forever may not be very long, given the conditions leading to the short life spans of these unfortunate souls. Thus it is that Anna Belfrage, especially if the reader has already become acquainted with the Grahams in book one, A Rip in the Veil, manages so quickly to arouse the passion of readers, who, if they are anything like this one, caution Graham and then curse his foolishness, knowing they will soon lament his horrible fate.
The speed with which Graham is abducted—it happens before one can really settle into the book—reflects the rapidity that Matthew must bitterly marvel at as he hunches on the captor ship, recalling the short time between Simon’s warning and this event going down. His wife, Alex, wastes no time in setting a perilous rescue operation into motion and as her own ship pulls away from the docks, Simon, Matthew’s attorney and brother-in-law, watches her with a prayer in his heart.
Such a little thing on all that water, totally in the hands of our Lord, blown hither and thither like a chaff in the wind. He sighed and pressed his hat down on his head.
“Dear Lord, hold Your hand over them and keep them safe,” he prayed. “Turn the light of Your countenance unto them and guide them back home.”
It should be noted here that home for Alex, while indeed Scotland, is torn between two times, for she had been dragged into this era from the 21st century during a freak thunderstorm in which the veil of time had been torn, the separateness blurred and she transported over. It had been a frightening and dangerous transition as she navigated her way through her new—old—time, with Matthew as her new companion and eventually, husband.
Misfortune seems in constant pursuit, what with conditions of the time and Luke’s unrelenting hatred and desire for revenge. Indeed, as Simon regards her, she is like helpless chaff, blown asunder while other pieces of her family lay in front of and behind her, none knowing if her mission will be successful or they might ever see another again in this life.
Like Chaff in the Wind reads in part as if we have stepped into living history: not only do we witness the events as they occur, but Belfrage also captures the humanity (or lack thereof) in various characters with their own perceptions of how to move forward. Some have given in to the cruelty, hoping to get on as best they can and perhaps see the end of their contracted time and still be alive. This is not Matthew’s way, but the author judges no one, including those close to him who sacrifice precious parts of their selves for the sake of survival.
Belfrage also captures the day-to-day order of business that provides readers with a clear sense of how people really lived at this time—ordinary people. Alex visits the registrar, her companion Mrs. Gordon garners income as a midwife, officials and citizens are co-operative and not. Like our own time, 17th century Virginia also has its share of hustlers, backstabbers and other ne’er-do-wells, the actions of whom serve as a springboard to mysteries Alex has to clear her way through, learning how to detect and use every bit of cunning that she has in the process. Though she is free in terms of servitude, she must also dodge plenty of bullets to remain so, for enemies are made and unmade, loyalties shift and prices are paid in a seemingly unending parade of bargains linking people together in ways she has yet to understand.
Fortunately, not all in this strange place are motivated to trip her up and bouts of providence provide realistic balance, more from an author so well acquainted with her eras that one might be forgiven for believing she herself has stepped out of one to record these events. Alex, with similar advantage, being from a later century and somewhat well equipped to move forward, nevertheless is not given entirely smooth passage as she has doubts and questions of her own lives that follow her down the path of this entire journey. Some of these, she knows, will revolve around the question of What now? if she is successful in retrieving her lost Matthew. After what he has had to endure, would he be able to recover? Could they get back to who they were before?
One favorite element of Like Chaff in the Wind—indeed, the entire series—is the varied nature of Alex’s adaptation to her new/old time and how she carries out her tasks despite having been used to entirely different methods. Observing her engaged in running the household, managing travel plans and activities, raising her children, interacting with her family, advocating for their needs, readers appreciate her honesty and Belfrage’s treatment of her characters in that while nothing is really very easy, there also are no extraneously difficult moments in this life: it is all kept very real with narrative and dialogue that fit with each other seamlessly.
In this particular installment of The Graham Saga Belfrage gives us mystery, crime, romance, history, time travel and, a special treat for this reviewer’s interests, a nautical theme. Her ability to manage this much subject matter, very complicated sets of relationships, events in two eras and intersecting plotlines is truly second to none.
Being a sequel is never an easy task: A Rip in the Veil opening the saga as magnificently as it does, readers will wonder what audiences universally do. “Will the second be as good as the first?” Like a younger sibling it must compete for attention, carefully avoiding such traits as mimicry and overcompensation in the quest for individuality. In parenting these two books, Belfrage and readers can rest assured they have no need of worry re: a rivalry anywhere near to that of Matthew and Luke. These siblings indeed are their own individuals, but also complement and recommend one another. Fascinating tales, the only unsatisfying element will be the wait for the next one.
Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)
Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)
Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Amazon UK, Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Belfrage, her characters and her world at her website and blog, which also contains details about her upcoming series.
This post previously appeared in 2014 on the blog’s alternative location.