BLACK IVORY by Saliee O'Brien

PUBLISHER: Bantam, 4/1980
GENRE: Fiction/Historical Ro
SETTING: Mississippi and Louisiana/mid-1800's

FROM PUBLISHER: Ravished by her jailor...sold naked at the slave market...forced to flee for her life and her honor...the radiant, pale-skinned Hester was destined to suffer heartbreak and outrage because her parents were slaves. From the splendid vastness of Thornton Plantation to the dangers of escape and the horrors of captivity to the unexpected romance aboard a glittering showboat, she sought the one power great enough to reverse destiny's cruel course - the magic of one man's all-conquering true love.


The story takes place in Mississippi and Louisiana in 1857. The story spans almost four years. The heroine is Hester, fourteen years old, born in January 1843. She's a slave on the Thornton Plantation, along with her parents, Sam and Lela Belle. They have no last name. Hester is very pale and could pass for white though her parents are very dark. She's got auburn hair and brown eyes. She's often called a 'white nigger' by everyone on the plantation. Her older brother died in infancy.

Philip Bennett, blond hair and blue eyes, is the eighteen year old cousin to George Drummond. George is the stepgrandson to the plantation's owner, Thorne Wabash.

Thorne's daughter, Rosalie, was married to George's father, Seth. They married when George was around nine. George is very sadistic and loves for the slaves to be whipped. Thorne is sadistic too. When slaves are whipped he has cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice rubbed into the wounds. He even beat one to death and put the body in the pig pen with hogs that were kept hungry.

Phil and Hester have always been attracted to each other and have sex one day. Phil wants them to run away and get married. Hester can pass for white and no one would know she wasn't. She tells him no. Phil tells George that he loves Hester. George then tells his stepgrandfather, Thorne. Thorne sells her. Sometime before this, Hester is raped by Boss Murray, overseer of the plantation and put into jail. Her parents break her out.

Hester is sold, nude on the auction block, to Edward Dalton, owner of Dalton Brokerage Company. She's to be his wife's seamstress. Mildred is his very jealous, crazy thirty-five year old wife. They've been married for ten years. Edward has an octaroon mistress, Clio. He's had her since right before he married Mildred. He has two sons with Clio and two daughters with his wife. Edward isn't able to visit Clio that often because he's scared his wife will find out. Clio, not knowing Hesters age but knowing she's young, encourages Edward to have sex with her whenever he wants to. And he does.

Edward hirers a thirty-six year old ex-lawyer named Beau Kidd to be his daughters' tudor. He takes a liking to Hester and offers to give her private school lessons in exchange for sex. She's desperate to learn, to read and write so she agrees, reluctantly. That sexual relationship and the one with Edward continues for a few years. One night Edward sneaks out of bed to go visit Hester in her bedroom. She's now seventeen. They're having sex when Mildred opens the door on them. She tells him she knows about Clio and their children together because she's had him followed. She stabs Edward in the throat with Hester's scissors and kills him. She's sent to a mental institution and the children are told both parents died in a carriage accident.

All the slaves are to be sold off. So Hester runs away at night. She ends up on a showboat called the Mississippi Magnola. This part of the story is really boring. She becomes an actress on the showboat, the same boat the her beloved Phil is an actor on. She's disguised as an American Indian, paints her skin darker, wears a dark wig and everything, but after a while, Phil recognizes her. He tells her that he still wants to marry her. She still refuses him, telling him it'll ruin his life if anyone finds out she's black. One night, like before, she runs away.

She wakes up one day very sick. She's at the home of Beula and Bud Carpender. Their son, Chess, lives there too. She'd been bitten twice by snakes and almost died. All three family members are part of the Underground Railroad. One night, a slave couple and their baby show up. Bud and Beula hid them. Searchers come looking for them and they're found. One of the men takes the baby by the legs and smashes it's head into a tree and kills it. The men recognize Hester from the wanted posters, since she's a runaway slave, but they all convince the men that she's not them, she's someone named Mary and is married to Chess.

Hester decides to leave the place and go hide out at with her parents on Thorne's plantation, where she was born. She knows the slaves won't tell on her. Once there, she decides to tell George that she's there and askes him to buy her from the people who took over Edward's plantation. He tells her he will....if she becomes his mistress. At this point, George is married to Eve, who's parents own a neighboring plantation.

At this point, she's seventeen and George is twenty-three. He makes Hester marry a slave named Proteus. He's very violent and rapes her orally on their wedding night and physically abuses her. The next day, George tries to rape Hester outside, where he's followed her, because she doesn't want to have sex outside where they can be seen. Phil just happens to see it. Phil was there in the first place because he figured that Hester would have gone back to her parents home to hide out after she ran away from him on the Mississippi Magnolia. Phil and George get into a knife fight and George almost dies.

Beula Carpender, who figured out who Hester was, has come to the plantation to tell everyone a secret. She gathers everyone in the family around. She tells them about Thorne's wife, Justine, running away with another man after she and Thorne's only child, Rosalie, was born. After Rosalie grew up, she got pregnant by twin brothers. She liked and wanted to marry Robert Millhouse. They began a sexual relationship with each other. She then was told by Robert that he and his identical twin brother Richard, had both been having sex with her. She was horrified and didn't know which one was the father. She had the baby and was told it was stillborn. She ended up marrying George's father, Seth, not long after giving birth. He never knew she was pregnant since she was kept hidden away so that only a few people knew about the pregnancy.

The best part of the story is finding out what happened with the 'stillborn' baby. I can't bring myself to give spoilers, since it's the most interesting part of the entire story. Farfetched, but good anyway. Hester and Phil do get their happily ever after.

MY THOUGHTS: I really liked this story. A couple of things weren't too plausible but I can overlook that since I found the rest to be entertaining. I thought the part where Hester ran away and became an actress was very boring and uninteresting. I don't care a thing about the world of acting.

The character Proteus, the slave who unofficially married Hester, came out of nowhere. I don't like, or understand, why he was made to be so violent. He didn't have much of a part in the story. I thought the whole marriage was pointless and unnecessary to the story. It should have been left out.

Without giving away the ending, I'll say that even though part of it was farfetched it was still a bit suspenseful. I'd already guessed it.

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