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Book Review: What Passes as Love – Tricia R. Thomas

What passes as a novel that just didn’t quite get there

If you’re looking for an antebellum romance novel where the heaving-chested heroine falls for a man outside her social status and the bodices go flying, this is not that type of novel.

The problem is that I’m not entirely sure what this novel is, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s sort of a Cinderella novel with a twist that isn’t quite sure where it’s twisting towards.

Protagonist Dahlia Holt is the daughter of her white plantation master and her black enslaved mother. The first few years of her childhood she spends living in the slave quarters, often working and playing alongside another enslaved boy around her age, Bo. As Dahlia is white-passing, her father eventually takes her into his house to raise her as his daughter, except her fully white half sisters treat her as their own personal maid, although Dahlia’s mixed racial heritage is hidden from general society. A chaotic visit to town results in a now-teenage Dahlia becoming separated from the rest of her family, and a man who helps her escape the chaos becomes smitten with her, asking her to become his bride. Dahlia latches onto what may be her only chance to marry into high society without anyone knowing of her mixed racial heritage, and promptly runs away and marries him a few weeks later, leaving her old life behind–until Bo shows up as the newest enslaved worker of her husband’s family.

While there is clearly a budding romance between Dahlia and Bo, unfortunately I’m not sure where that romance comes from, as our two supposed lovebirds spend very little time physically near each other due to the whole master/slave dynamic. Dahlia’s internal struggles as a mixed race woman on the eve of the American Civil War could have been a powerful theme throughout the novel, but as the white people in her life never question her race and the enslaved people she interacts with keep her black ancestry a secret, this actually has very little bearing on the plot itself, which finds itself distilled into “How long can I get away with having married this guy when I shouldn’t have?” Dahlia could have been a lower-class white woman who fooled her way into marrying into high society at any point in history and the bulk of the story would have been the same.

Some people are fine with the setting of historical novels simply being a neat background prop for the story, enjoying the plot no matter where in time it takes place. After all, humans have generally struggled with the similar problems of love, family, death, and loneliness throughout all of humanity’s existence. I’m the type who truly wants to see how the specific issues of a specific time and place affected the lives of the people who lived back then, though, and What Passes as Love just didn’t quite hit those notes for me. As a general romance novel, this is a decent read, but as it bills itself heavily on the historical fiction aspect, I think a much deeper introspection on the life of a half white, half black woman living in the United State around the year 1860 could have catapulted What Passes as Love into one of the best books of the year. Unfortunately, I’ll have to pass on putting this on my reread list for now.

Disclaimer: I received a prerelease copy of this book for free through the Amazon Prime First Reads Program and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Title: What Passes as Love
Author: Tricia R. Thomas
Publication Date: 01 September 2021
Print Length: 335 pages
Marie’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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