A Rada Review
This book takes place over one "season" on the C & O canal, from March to November, 1862. It follows a family as they deal with the normal dangers of life on the canal in 1862 combined with the threats from both sides in the Civil War who use the canal as a border and battlefront.
The historical background is well-researched and plausible. The competition between the canawlers and the railroaders forms a great backdrop to the lives of a family just trying to make it from day to day while staying true to their principles and beliefs. The intrigue of the Civil War pits the family against the Union bureacrats and the Rebel scouts. If there is a flaw in the novel, it is perhaps that it stayed a little too true to being historical fiction. The plot seemed more of an excuse to show off people's lives, rather than anything that would surprise the reader with a twist.
The novel does a good job of demonstrating the family's dedication to freedom and helping others. It ties together helping runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad with helping a poor half-orphan and a pair of Confederate wounded. Only one of them turns out to be unworthy of that help. In all, the book is an uplifting example of real people facing real problems, but surviving and showing that good will triumph even in the worst of circumstances.
There are a couple of love stories intertwined in the book. The actions of the Men in the novel also make an ongoing statement of a boy's maturation process. The reader can learn from the boy's mistakes, even if the novel's characters don't always do so. The book leaves some threads open-ended enough to make me think that a sequel may show up in the future, especially given the short time period Canawlers covers. If so I'll be sure to read it and would encourage anyone with historical interest to pick up this book or one of Mr. Rada's other works. - Thomas Sewell