Book Review: The Knotted Ring by Myra Hargrave McIlvain

  • Title: The Knotted Ring
  • Author: Myra Hargrave McIlvain
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely. It was hard to tear myself away from this one.


Susannah Mobley, expecting her slave lover’s baby, submits to an arranged marriage to Hezekiah James, who is headed to Texas to claim a land grant. Caught in a series of lies about her pregnancy, as well as the beautiful ring woven from her red hair, Susannah embarks on the harsh trip to Texas, grieving for her lost love and determined to control her destiny. On the wagon train journey, Hezekiah’s beliefs and strength are tested by Native Americans and the strange Madstone. Soon, Susannah will have to decide if she can live with the consequences of her lies and open herself to the man who shows every form of contrition, or if she will allow longing for the child to destroy her life.

Susannah Mobley is the pampered daughter of a wealthy Natchitoches planter. She plays the harp and attends private school in New Orleans. She grew up with slave children as playmates, teaching them to read and write as they played at school, not seeing any difference between herself and them. And she has made the grievous mistake of falling in love with one of her father’s slaves, and he with her. In pre-Civil War era Louisiana, this could have disastrous consequences for both parties and for any children that might result. A child indeed results here when Susannah and Philippe can’t fight their growing attraction for each other any longer.

Her father arranges for Susannah to marry Hezekiah James, who is heading for Texas with big dreams and looking for a wife to share them with. Susannah is appalled at the prospect of marrying someone she doesn’t know, and thinks she can get the whole thing called off when she tells him she is pregnant with a slave’s child. But Hezekiah is determined to forge ahead, and they leave the polite society of Natchitoches behind to carve a path and claim land in the wilderness that was Texas before it was even a republic.

Myra Hargrave McIlvain was inspired to write this story by a discovery in her own family history. She has clearly done her research, and she gives us a story that digs deep into some difficult territory and calls forth powerful emotions. As a Louisiana native, I’m aware of our state’s history with slavery, of the treatment of Black slaves, of the penalties that could be handed out for having a romantic entanglement that crossed racial lines. Reading the part of the story leading up to Susannah’s pregnancy being revealed had me in knots for fear of how strongly her father might react.

The story also deals with the institution of slavery and the treatment of slaves on a larger level. Susannah’s mother tells her that Blacks and Indians don’t love the same as white people, but Susannah knows from her own experience that that simply isn’t true. Susannah’s father owns slaves and treats them well so long as it benefits him to do so. If they step out of line, he shows no compunction about responding swiftly and harshly. Hezekiah owns slaves, but treats them with respect and dignity, causing some consternation among people who don’t share his views. But can even the kindest treatment make it agreeable to a man that all the steps he takes are under another person’s ultimate control?

Susannah lied about the circumstances that led to her pregnancy, and as tends to happen, the truth eventually came to light. There were consequences to her lies, and they created distance between Susannah and Hezekiah. It was clear early on that he wanted a genuine marriage for the two of them, but Susannah’s inability to be open and honest about her past made that difficult. They were both good people, and I really wanted to see both of them rip the band-aid off, talk it all out, and get things straight so they could move forward together.

It’s clear from the description that the journey to settle in Texas wasn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes life happened, and you had to choose between giving up or finding the courage to keep going. I really enjoyed the bits of Texas history woven into the story, as well as descriptions of all the effort that had to go into just surviving on the frontier, let alone thriving. Susannah, protected young woman that she was, had some hard adjustments to living on the trail and being responsible for her own household. She had a lot to learn, and the description of her trying to milk a cow made me chuckle. I figure I would have about the same success she first did were I to try it myself!

I don’t want to give away anything, so I’ll stop here. The story is so wonderfully written, I want y’all to read it and get to experience all the highs and lows of the characters for yourselves. I recommend it for anyone who loves good historical fiction, especially if you’re interested in pre-Civil War Southern/Southwestern fiction, and Texas history.

About the author:

Myra Hargrave McIlvain, a sixth-generation Texan, is a storyteller who has written Texas historical markers (yes, real people write those things lining Texas highways), articles for newspapers and magazines such as Texas Highways, and six nonfiction books about famous and infamous Texas characters and places.

McIlvain found her real love when she wrote her first historical fiction. All her tales take place in Texas during major periods of its history. However, The Knotted Ring was inspired by an old family story, and in her search to understand what may have happened, she imagined their lives set in a time that she knew well––the establishment of the first Anglo colony.

McIlvain views history as the story of a people; the people she knows best have made Texas home.


This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life, Southern Fiction, Texas History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: The Knotted Ring by Myra Hargrave McIlvain

  1. Would like to read in print format, sounds like a good read.

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