Set in 1689 New England, Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman follows Ruth Miner, a young woman accused of Witchcraft after the death of her family.
After being ostracized from her community, Ruth sets out on her own to reconnect with childhood friend Owen Townsend for help. Serving as the first mate of his father’s ship, the Primrose, Owen takes Ruth in but not without struggle. Owen does what he must to shield Ruth from the violent and amorous advances of crew mates by making it known that she is “his” even if he doesn’t believe it himself.
But Ruth and Owen are inevitably drawn to each other in genuine ways, albeit unconventional courtship. To ensure her safety, he takes her to a new town where she is determined to own a plot of land. While women could not own land at this time, Ruth works hard to achieve her goal. While the townspeople regard her as unconventional, most disregard while others take a keen, if not dangerous, interest. She befriends a Pequot man Askook, as well as draws the unwanted attention from a ruthless and powerful English general named Samuel Whitlock.
At the risk of her own safety, Ruth Miner marches to the beat of her own drum. Despite the 17th century New England setting, Ruth reads all topics and learns French (quite the scandal in an English colony during King William’s War) and is not particularly religious. She goes her own way while the majority of young women her age are already married with a child. Ruth fits the unfortunate fact of history that most women with independent thoughts and actions were often accused of witchcraft. What’s more, her friendships with Askook and her venturing into the “Devil’s woods” (really just the forest where the Pequot live) only make her more demonic in the eyes of the English.
Out Front the Following Sea is a series of misfortunes. Just when you think the characters have suffered enough and couldn’t possibly survive another trial–they are indeed thrust into more misfortune and violence. I understand putting characters through conflict is what makes a story go, however there were times, particularly with sustained physical injuries, that characters surviving would jolt me out of that suspension of disbelief (especially for the state of medicine in the 17th century!)
Ruth’s journey is ultimately one of survival at all costs. However, her ultra progressive nature seemed hard to believe for the time and place (not that I don’t support and love stories of women who rebelled against power structures throughout history.) Ruth’s series of misfortunes shapes her in profound ways, yet her character development and the plot points that get her there seem to be thrown out the window with the ending. Yes, she’s been through hell and back and deserves a happy ending, but I’m not sure doing so at the expense of believability will win over readers.
Out Front the Following Sea will be released on January 11, 2022.