Tuesday 18 June 2024

Book Review - West of Santillane by Brook Allen

West of Santillane
By Brook Allen

Publication Date: 8th March 2024
Publisher: Dawg House Books 
Page Length: 377 Page
Genre: Historical Biographical Fiction

Desperate to escape a mundane future as a Virginia planter’s wife, Julia Hancock seizes her chance for adventure when she wins the heart of American hero William Clark. Though her husband is the famed explorer, Julia embarks on her own thrilling and perilous journey of self-discovery.

With her gaze ever westward, Julia possesses a hunger for knowledge and a passion for helping others. She falls in love with Will’s strength and generous manner, but, like her parents, he is a slave owner, and Julia harbors strong opinions against slavery. Still, her love for Will wins out, though he remains unaware of her beliefs.

Julia finds St. Louis to be a rough town with few of the luxuries to which she is accustomed, harboring scandalous politicians and miscreants of all types. As her husband and his best friend, Meriwether Lewis, work to establish an American government and plan to publish their highly anticipated memoirs, Julia struggles to assume the roles of both wife and mother. She is also drawn into the plight of an Indian family desperate to return to their own lands and becomes an advocate for Will’s enslaved.

When political rivals cause trouble, Julia’s clandestine aid to the Indians and enslaved of St. Louis draws unwanted attention, placing her at odds with her husband. Danger cloaks itself in far too many ways, leading her to embrace the courage to save herself and others through a challenge of forgiveness that will either restore the love she shares with Will or end it forever.

Sometimes life happens when you are busy making plans. If Phillip Carrington asked to court her, Julia Hancock had firmly made up her mind to accept. Yet, the two-faced nature of someone who was supposed to be her friend ensured that such a thing would never come to pass. She would have to look for a husband elsewhere.

Then, without warning, a marriage proposal is presented. Captain William Clark, an American hero, has asked for her hand in marriage. Hers! William is no Phillip, he is a grown man and a great deal older than her, but age is just a number when you are in love, and Julia was definitely in love.

Prepare to be enchanted by Brook Allen’s West of Santillane, a captivating tale that delves into family, slavery, and political controversy from the viewpoint of Julia Hancock Clark.

Historical narratives frequently centre around men, leaving the women of the time overlooked; however, their stories often prove to be even more captivating than those of their male counterparts. Julia Hancock, wife of the renowned William Clark, exemplifies this phenomenon.  

Julia’s social standing is greatly enhanced by her status as a planter’s daughter in Virginia. She is highly educated, exceptionally well-read, and proficient in household management. Seeking an advantageous marriage for Julia, her father believes there is no better candidate than the famous William Clark, even though Julia’s mother feels uneasy about the significant age disparity. Julia first encountered William at the age of nine, and now she’s excited to see him and swiftly becomes enamoured by his charisma. The narrative that follows is a mix of hardship, loss, grief, and love. Julia’s story has been patiently waiting to be told, and Allen is the only author who can do it justice. Julia is a relatable character that readers can connect with right away. She possesses firm opinions, a compassionate heart, and an indomitable spirit. Julia’s story is not only captivating, but it also mesmerizes and leaves the reader yearning for more.

Captain William Clark is something of a national hero having jointly led a two-year exploration of the Pacific with the Corps of Discovery, with Meriwether Lewis. The reader doesn’t receive a complete understanding of the expedition’s events, as that would require a separate story. Nonetheless, the expedition and the publication of their discoveries play a significant role throughout the narrative. William effortlessly handles fame, but his current priorities are his courtship and marriage to Julia, as well as advancing his career. President Jefferson designates him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Louisiana Territory, a role he is thrilled about, though Julia’s father has reservations about her living in Louisiana so far away from home. William is quite a complex character for a reader to get grips with. He is a loving husband and father, a fair man when it comes to Indian affairs, earning the readers’ admiration, but his cruelty toward his people (slaves) taints his character. Allen has not romanticised William in any way, he is what he is, a product of his time and it is wise for the reader to remember this, although it is very difficult not to judge him harshly.

One of the underlying themes in this story is the presence of slavery. Even though the country had just freed itself from English rule, slavery remained prevalent, undermining the notion of true freedom. Julia never really thought about her father’s people until her actions resulted in devastating consequences for two boys she used to play with. Until now, she had always seen Ares and Virgi as nothing more than her friends, without considering their skin colour, and now they have been punished for something she had done. The memory of injustice and cruelty will forever be etched in the mind of a very impressionable nine-year-old girl. Many years later, she attends a speech given by abolitionist, James Mitchell, a Methodist minister, and upon meeting him, she becomes resolute in her decision to never marry a planter who owns slaves, as she finds the practice utterly repulsive. Despite not marrying a planter, she does end up falling in love and marrying Captain William Clark, who happens to be a slave owner. Despite Julia’s efforts to conceal her abolitionist views from her husband, she cannot tolerate witnessing him administer cruel punishments. William treats his horses better than he treats his slaves, and this comes as a shock to both Julia and the reader. It seems so out of character for William to beat his slaves. His excuse for such behaviour is simple, they are his to do with what he wants and this ingrained attitude, so prevalent at the time, leads to incredible tension in their marriage. Allen skillfully uses Julia’s character to reveal the distressing truth about the insignificance of a slave’s life to their owners. The treatment of York by William, who had accompanied him on the expedition and was the first African American to cross the continent and see the Pacific, is a clear illustration of the power dynamics between slave owners and their enslaved individuals. Conversely, Julia treats her husband’s people with respect and kindness, and they reciprocate in the same manner. The way her relationship with Chloe was depicted was exceptionally well executed.

This novel portrays politics as a power struggle accompanied by corruption. Though not based in Washington, the presence of President Jefferson resonates throughout this tale. Both William and Meriwether Lewis face a two-fold consequence when they are offered their positions by the President. With figures like Frederick Bates involved, it is wise to anticipate and outsmart political manoeuvrings, but the threat comes seemingly too late for Meriwether. With his rapidly declining health and Bates’ continued interferences, Meriwether faces financial ruin. Meriwether’s initial strange demeanour melts away as the reader uncovers the hardships he faces, which in return prompts sympathy. Allen’s authentic portrayal of Meriwether was flawlessly executed, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

West of Santillane by Brook Allen is a novel that will evoke strong emotions, so make sure you have tissues nearby. While there are moments of horror and intense passion, this story also explores life in Louisiana during this era and has breathed new life into Julia Hancock Clark. Once you have read it, this story will stay with you forever.

Pick up your copy of
 West of Santillane

Brook Allen

Author Brook Allen has a passion for history. Her newest project, West of Santillane spotlights history from a little closer to home. It’s the story of Julia Hancock, who married famed explorer, William Clark. Each character of this thrilling, adventurous period was researched throughout southwest Virginia and into Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota. It launches in March of 2024.

Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, it was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards and also won First Place in the prestigious Chaucer Division in the Chanticleer International Book Awards, 2020. 

The Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she worked on for fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar. 

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her Antonius Trilogy. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and big, black dog, Jak. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. 

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  1. I do so love a book with a strong female lead. I have added West of Santillane to my to-read list.


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