Out Front the Following Sea was reviewed by Alex Carrigan on Quail Bell Magazine on November 10, 2021.
It’s not uncommon for a lot to slip by in America’s long history. A lot of colonial literature tends to focus on either the early start of the colonial period or the end of said period when the American Revolution brought forth a new country. There is a sweet spot in that historical segment where many events, ideas, and figures tend to be forgotten, but still deserve examination.
In her forthcoming novel from Regal House Publishing, Leah Angstman pens a colonial epic covering a berth of history and knowledge that is as exciting to see played out as it is to learn about. Out Front the Following Sea follows Ruth Miner, a teenaged orphan in New England whose life is upended when she’s accused of witchcraft following her grandmother’s death. Her flight to Connecticut on her childhood friend Owen’s ship leads to a series of escalations that involve property ownership, women’s rights, racism and xenophobia, violence, and justice.
Ruth’s tale is absolutely fascinating, and the amount of historical research Angstman undertook to write this tale helps elevate it. Many readers may not know about King William’s War, a war that lasted from 1688-1697 involving a war between New England and New France with each side using indigenous populations in their combat. It’s a period of American history many wouldn’t know about or would confuse with later conflicts, so for Angstman’s tale to work, the story would require a merging of the historical setting with resonating themes.
Othering is probably one of the most prevalent in this novel. All throughout the story are instances where characters face social shunning or discrimination for a variety of reasons. Ruth is treated differently for being an orphan, an alleged witch, a woman who owns property, and for her interest in “controversial” literature like French poetry. Owen, while one who would normally be expected to be fine for being a cisgender straight man in a patriarchal society, faces potential alienation and death due to his French heritage, where just speaking French could result in him being hanged. There are numerous examples throughout the book, where the slightest step out of line faces lethal penalties and complete alienation, and the novel explores how easily the tide can change for those who taste even the smallest amount of agency and power.
One of the other prevalent themes throughout is the importance of labor. Ruth is a woman ahead of her time, trying to build her own home and doing whatever she can to afford the land. While this earns her side eyes, her tenacity and persistence makes her admirable from a modern perspective. Likewise, because much of this novel involves seafaring in the 17th century, there are a lot of moments dedicated to the running of a ship, from the amount of people involved to the exact dimensions and layout of the ship provided from Angstman’s illustrations at the start.
While Out Front the Following Sea is an exciting read, there are some minor critiques for its pacing at times and for some of its characters. The beginning is a little slow, and some parts later in the book feel drawn out to reach their point. Likewise, while the main characters are complex and sympathetic, the characterization towards other characters like Ruth’s vile husband Samuel are lacking at times. None of these are dealbreakers though, as the book may be dense, Angstman has managed to craft a timeless story and adapt the setting and period to a story that benefits from its setting.
Out Front the Following Sea is like a lighthouse on the coastline: meticulously built and designed, but also illuminates so much to carefully draw the reader in. Angstman’s research and prose makes Ruth’s story one that stands out for its vividness and relatability, and the plot is exciting enough that the reader will surely want to see the next course set. By drawing from the history of New England-set historical fiction, Out Front the Following Sea elevates and reignites the passion for these kinds of stories, and will hopefully inspire others to set sail into these uncharted waters.
Out Front the Following Sea will be released on January 11, 2022. It is currently available for preorder.