Summary and book reviews of The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

The Blood of Heaven

By Kent Wascom

The Blood of Heaven
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2013,
    432 pages.
    Paperback: 10 Jun 2014,
    464 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.

The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher's son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.

The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

I

The Wild Country
Upper Louisiana, 1799
Into the Land of Milk and Honey

They would later say that the day we came into Chit Valley all the children's fevers broke and everybody's bowels were righted. But from the way we first arrived in that place, you would never think that Preacherfather would become their fighting prophet, their bloody savior. As it stood, we almost didn't make it there.

Some miles below the falls at Louisville the captain of the flatboat we'd taken grew tired of Preacher-father and his talk of baptism, and so had us flung over the side along with what baggage fellow passengers felt like tossing after us, our horses, kit, and feed left behind—or flowing on ahead of us, as it may be. This was before the western territories had been redeemed or given any settled name and the country we passed into was then known as Upper Louisiana, though so was much of the world. Now it's called Missouri, a dangling fragment of the carved-up ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

First-time author Kent Wascom's The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable coming-of-age story set around the time when the United States was struggling to form itself into a nation. A publication I subscribe to frequently asks its interview subjects, "What book are you an evangelist for?" I've got to say The Blood of Heaven fits that category for me; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think Wascom is an incredible talent and I can't wait to introduce my friends to this writer.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A debut that has a certain mad zest but is seriously hurt by its lack of a trajectory.

Booklist

Seeing early nineteenth-century America through the eyes of an ambitious, trigger-happy renegade makes for an exhilarating yet brutal ride. Wascom imbues this underexplored era with visceral authenticity.

Library Journal

Angel Woolsack forsakes life with his itinerant preacher father to follow a daring highwayman, then ends up wending his way from on-the-edge West Florida to the bordellos of Natchez, the plantations of Mississippi, and finally New Orleans, where Aaron Burr is leading efforts to create a new country. It’s a brave and bloody new world, captured with energy.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In its depiction of a primitive, savage era and of man's depravity, as well as its sensitive portrayal of souls 'drowned in the blood of Heaven,' Wascom's novel is a masterly achievement.

Author Blurb Robert Olmstead
Young Kent Wascom went down to the crossroads and there he made his deal. Or maybe he was just born spirited for this kind of work. Either way, I cannot name such a stunning debut as this one. It reads as not written, but lived and remembered—and how impossible is that? Whoever may own Kent Wascom’s soul, The Blood of Heaven will forever be ours.

Author Blurb William Kittredge
Oh America, heart-broken and constantly fought over! The Blood of Heaven is a dark hymn to the ruthless and ruinous early days in the Louisiana fringes of our republic. In the tradition of As I Lay Dying and Flannery O'Connor and Blood Meridian, idiomatic and far off into transgression, this one, from Kent Wascom, bless his genius, is the real deal.

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The Republic of West Florida

The Blood of Heaven is set primarily in West Florida during the early years of the 19th century. At the time, West Florida occupied part of what is now referred to as the Florida Panhandle, as well as sections of what are now Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama along the Gulf Coast. It was bordered by the Mississippi River to the west, and the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers to the East. The northern boundary was less well-defined, advancing into territories held by the Choctaw and Creek Nations.

Spanish colonists first attempted settlement in the mid-16th century, but no permanent outpost was established until 1698 when a fort was built in what would later become Pensacola, Florida. Its purpose was to deter the French from ...

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