May Bedloe is the seamstress for her famous actress cousin, Comfort Vertue. May has been with Comfort since her parents passed away and feels secure in her routine and Comfort's knowledge of May's irregularities. May has always been very direct in her speech and has a hard time with anything that isn't exactly the truth. May's life changes when the steamboat she and Comfort are travelling on explodes on the Ohio River in 1838. May and Comfort lose everything. Comfort is soon snapped up by benefactress and abolitionist Flora Howard who will have Comfort speak for her cause. May is not included in this plan; so she decides that she will find employment on her own. May is hired on Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre; but she needed to use the money Flora gave her to go home in order to get established. May soon finds herself an integral part of the Floating Theatre and comes into her own. When The Floating Theatre and Comfort's speaking tour cross paths, Flora uses May's place on a boat traveling from south to north for her own deed of transporting people to freedom, jeopardizing May's place in the Theatre.
The Underground River is a different look at how the Underground Railroad functioned and some of it's players. Interesting characters and the unique setting pulled me in. May's character has several quirks and might be on the autism spectrum if she lived in the present. Her directfulness and untouched insight gave a very honest look at the people around her; abolitionist Flora Howard is a bully using others to further her own cause, even Comfort kept May hidden and kept putting her down in order to raise herself up. The true heroes, Leo, Donaldson and Hugo shine through May's eyes. Though the book is about the Underground Railroad, the process and danger of the transport is really only half the story. Most of the story revolves around life on the river and the theatre. Through May's perspective, we get a good look at how the towns along the river in the North and South are all pretty similar except for the presence or absence of slavery and peoples attitudes about it. There is also an intimate look into theatre life and the distinctiveness of a riverboat theatre. The teamwork, diligence and creativeness of the entire crew is apparent. I do wish May had been a willing player in the transport instead of being blackmailed, she had the compassion for the job and believed in the cause, but the fact that she is being forced marred my view a bit. Overall, an exciting and insightful historical fiction read about the Underground Railroad and Theatre life.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.