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Onyx reviews: Against the Odds by Gwyneth Atlee

The Civil War is over, Lincoln has recently been assassinated, and the country is putting itself back together. The steamboat Sultana, overloaded with cargo and malnourished Union soldiers who have been liberated from torturous conditions in Southern prisons, lumbers up the Mississippi. The fates of three people aboard the congested boat, each possessing a dark and deadly past, become inextricably linked.

Yvette Augeron is fleeing her Southern home to reach her uncle, perhaps the only remaining family member who will help her. She has been framed for the murder of her sister and a Union lieutenant and faces death if she stays in New Orleans.

The real murderer, Captain Darien Russell, is also aboard the Sultana, overseeing the repatriation of the troops. He sees Yvette boarding and, fearing that she carries evidence of his guilt, resolves that she will not leave the steamboat alive.

While stationed in New Orleans, Russell swindled numerous rich Southerners - Union sympathizers - of their wealth. He hopes his newfound wealth will help him recover his reputation, tarnished after losing his boys' school when his temper almost cost the life of a student.

Private Gabriel Davis is thrust between Yvette and Russell. Gabe is traveling undercover, having been branded a coward and a runaway during battle. Gabe's family business made the very cannons used so effectively against Southern soldiers. Seen in action up close, Gabe is appalled by the results of his family's creations and undergoes a personal crisis on the battlefield.

Try as he might, Gabe cannot escape unseen and it is Yvette who saves him from a violent confrontation with other soldiers planning to punish Gabe for his perceived cowardice. Gabe returns the favor shortly after when Yvette encounters Russell. A growing bond develops between them, the Southern belle and the Union soldier, an unlikely couple who must learn to see beyond their pre-war prejudices to survive.

The real-life explosion of the Sultana, a disaster resulting in approximately 1700 deaths, more than were caused by the sinking of the Titanic, casts Yvette, Gabe and Russell into the murky, dark Mississippi, pitting them against nature as well as each other. References to the Titanic disaster are not inappropriate here, as Atlee, the pen name of Woodlands writer Colleen Thompson, writes numerous scenes of both heroic and despicable acts by desperate people fighting to save lives—their own or others'—reminiscent of scenes from Titanic.

Against the Odds accurately depicts the personal conflicts of soldiers and civilians after the end of the war. Old animosities cannot be quickly overcome and the nightmares of the battlefield follow the soldiers from both sides as the world around them tries to find a new peace. Atlee has clearly done her research; the tragic condition of the Union soldiers and their cramped quarters aboard the Sultana crackle with detail.

Still, this is a romance and, while the ultimate outcome can never be in question, time and time again Yvette and Gabe's growing attraction is tested and seemingly doomed. There are instances, though, where they overcome adversity almost too easily. In one scene, thrust into the river by the Sultana's boiler explosion, the two find each other in the dark—as the title hints—against the odds. Even the characters marvel at some of the unlikely coincidences.

Atlee invokes divine provenance to explain these situations; in any other genre this might be less acceptable, but these two lovers were destined to be together and no catastrophes, man-made or otherwise, can keep them apart.

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