Sovrin’s Star by John Reyer Afamasaga is the first book in the new Mississippi Connection Trilogy. It opens with an atmospheric scene set in the Old South just as the Civil War has ended. People are trying to get over the border from Mississippi to Tennessee. Standing in line is a young boy named Sovrin. Immediately, Afamasaga pulls us into Sovrin’s world and makes us forget our own:
A rope tied around a signpost ran along the ground to the other side of the road, demarcating the land. Men in Confederate gray lined up with their families alongside poor farmers and freedmen in a queue that stretched into the distance. Sovrin wasn’t sure what they were standing in line for. But he sensed that it was in the hope of something better—something of great value, worth the great risk. There was permanency in how they carried possessions with them, and in how antsy the women were as they cradled their young, while the men maintained stoic stone faces. Everyone was determined to get across the rope on the ground.
At first, nothing seems strange or unusual about Sovrin other than that he is alone. But then when the line moves forward, it becomes clear that he is disabled and has to pivot to push himself forward as he walks. This awkward movement results in some rude laughter from the bystanders and the opening of one confidence man’s heart.
Just as Afamasaga brings us into the setting, he brings the characters to life with his descriptions of them. He describes the confidence man, Tiker, as: “In his top hat, Tiker looked like the ringmaster of the forsaken roadside circus in which Sovrin was the entertainment.” Meanwhile, Sovrin dresses in old sacks that hide the details of his body and make him look healthier than he is. At first, Tiker isn’t even sure if Sovrin is a boy or girl, but once he sees how Sovrin struggles to walk, his insides begin to melt and he feels torn to help.
Tiker is a former prizefighter from England. He came to the United States to make a new life and get rich quick. He is now working for the Confederacy as an agent provocateur and selling fake travel insurance policies. The last thing he expected was a crippled, orphaned boy to change his destiny, and yet that’s exactly what Sovrin does.
Besides his disability, Sovrin has the disadvantage of also being an orphan. When forced to walk, the only way he can propel himself forward is by focusing on happy memories of his parents. He also has some repressed memories. He cannot remember why he is alone or what happened to his parents, though by the end of the novella, he will remember.
To tell what happens next would be to give away too much, but let me say that Afamasaga has created a world where the Old South comes to life in surprising ways. Readers will definitely enjoy Tiker’s ingenuity in righting wrongs.
Several questions about Tiker’s past are left unanswered by the end of the novella, including how he got a velvet vest that he claims was gifted to him by the Queen of England. Fortunately, Afamasaga has two sequels planned: York’s Story and Queenie, the Queen of England, both about minor characters in Sovrin’s Star. It will be interesting to learn more about all Afamasaga’s characters’ backstories and futures as the series continues.
Anyone who enjoys historical fiction and especially Americana will enjoy Sovrin’s Star — there’s a bit of a Mark Twain flavor here and plenty of atmosphere to make you feel like you’ve stepped back into 1865 and the Reconstruction era. These characters are destined to live with you long after you return to the twenty-first century.
For more information about Sovrin’s Star, the Mississippi Connection series, and John Reyer Afamasaga, visit the author’s Amazon page.