James-Cyrus Hoffmann has just inherited his grandfather's farm, and with it a mysterious cabin deep in the woods on Hoffmann mountain, a cabin he has dreamed about since childhood. When James-Cyrus enters the cabin, he is vaulted back through time to the Civil War era, where he meets Elizabeth, the brave young woman who lives there, and Malachi, a runaway slave.
James-Cyrus' neighbor, Cora, knows all too well the tragic history of the cabin. When James-Cyrus tells Cora about Elizabeth, Malachi, and his fantastic vault back through time, the two devise a plan to change the past and right a wrong that has haunted the Hoffmann family for generations. But can they find the key to unlock the past in time to change what history said happened to Elizabeth and Malachi?
I reviewed Smoky Zeidel's The Storyteller's Bracelet in December: http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-storytellers-bracelet-by-smoky.html. I enjoyed that book and so was very pleased when Smoky offered me a review copy of The Cabin.
Time slip is something of a genre or at least subgenre of its own. And there is even a debate to be had whether it falls within magic realism. One of the issues with time slip is how you manage the implications of what happens when someone from the future impacts on the past. The grandfather paradox is well-known: You travel into the past and murder your own grandfather before he sires your mother or your father, and where does that then leave you? Carl Sagan Ponders Time Travel Smoky Zeidel manages in The Cabin to solve this problem. I won't tell you how, as it will give away too much of the plot resolution.
The structuring of the novel is very artful, with chapters pursuing related storylines set in different times featuring the different generations. This could have been confusing, especially as there were some family names which recurred through the ages, but Smoky Zeidel managed to keep the different strands clear. In fact this weaving of stories across the ages is part of the underlying message and magic of the novel: There was a deep connectedness between mountain women in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, a connectedness that transcended the tangible, yet was as real as the forest itself. It was a part of the mountain magic, her grandmother had taught her when she was a young child, and it was particularly strong between Corrine and her sister, Catherine.
I found the historical and folkloric context of the novel fascinating. As a Brit I was totally unfamiliar with the Native American tradition of fairy stones, and, I confess, I have only limited knowledge of the American Civil War and particularly the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses that allowed slaves to escape to the northern free states. The Hoffmann's cabin is one such safe house and it is also the portal between the different ages.
This is a well-crafted and entertaining story, easy to read in one or two sittings.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for a fair review.