Original Sins by Peg Kingman – Book Review

Original Sins: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom by Peg Kingman
Published by W.W. Norton & Co

After an unconventional childhood – leaving Scotland at a young age for India and the Far East – Grace is not quite at east in the quite conventional society of Philadelphia in the mid-19th century, surely her mother-in-law does not approve of her at all. Life becomes even more complicated when her old friend Anibaddh, a former slave, returns to Grace with a secret, one that will require Grace to travel south, into the heart of that institution which she most despises: slavery.

I did not realize when I first picked up “Original Sins” that it was actually the second in a series or, at least, it is connected to a book set earlier with the same main character. Luckily Kingman balances the series/stand-alone book divide well. There are enough references to past events to tip the reader off to the existence of an earlier book, but the necessary backstory is sufficiently explained, without giving away the entirety of Kingman’s first book, “Not Yet Drown’d.”

I found “Original Sins” to be absolutely captivating. Grace is certainly not the typical mid-19th century American woman, she is feminist and abolitionist in a time when all American women still gave the majority of their rights over to their husbands automatically upon marriage and slavery was still very much a given. Some will complain that Kingman’s work is more about thoughts and beliefs than about story and I would not necessarily disagree, but I also do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Grace, and other characters, expound on their beliefs in long discourses, but it is all supported by the characterization Kingman provides and, most importantly, it was fascinating and thought-provoking.

Although “Original Sins” is certainly not for everyone, people who are intrigued by the exchange of ideas about religion, freedom, and human rights will certainly find themselves engrossed. Highly recommended.

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9 comments to Original Sins by Peg Kingman – Book Review

  • Want! Sounds right up my alley. And a series to boot. Interesting.

  • This is new to me — so thanks for bringing it my attention.

  • This sounds fascinating to me!

  • Books like this always set my brain on fire, which may make me dangerous but is better than reading and going “yeah yeah yeah, heard this all before”. I like the sound of it.

  • This one sounds right up my alley! :)

  • Sounds like a really interesting premise. Glad that you mentioned how the thoughts and beliefs add to the characterization; I always get a little annoyed in historical fiction when the characters seem way too modern or hold beliefs that are out of context with the way they would have been raised in a certain culture/time but this one sounds like it makes sense and is handled well. Thanks for the review!

    • Yes, I thought that Kingman did a good job explaining how they were raised in a way that would have led to these beliefs – and outspoken beliefs at that. Otherwise the whole book could have just been a big disaster.

  • I just received a copy of this for review and am happy to hear good things. The premise sounded very interesting to me. Yours is the first review I’ve read. My fingers are crossed that I’ll enjoy it as well!

  • This is one book upon which you and I are going to have to disagree. I thought the explanations for the modern thinking forced and was bothered by the constant introduction of some new topic or “fun fact”. I did not catch on to the fact that it was a sequel, if you will, and I viewed the constant mention of her life in India as the paltry excuse for her viewpoints. I say paltry because it had a decidedly “Eat, Pray, Love” feel to it with its debate on eastern versus western religions. (My review is posting next week.)