The Angry Earth: A Story of the New Madrid Earthquakes by Sally Watson
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Cannonball Read IV: The Angry Earth: A Story of the New Madrid Earthquakes by Sally Watson

By loopyker | Book Reviews | October 19, 2012 | Comments ()


This is one of the newer books from one of my favourite authors, Sally Watson. Sally is well-known for her juvenile fiction published through 1954-1971 (my favourite, Jade, among them), but she began self-publishing new books in 2006 - present .

The Angry Earth is one of Sally's more recent adult-level books, but it is still without the explicit violence or sex that you find so often in other historical fiction. I much prefer Sally's style.

I read this a few months ago, coincidentally just past the bicentennial of the main event inspiring this story - the start of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811. The New Madrid Seismic Zone is in the U.S.A. along the Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee border, but also goes into Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. (more info. on Wikipedia: New Madrid Seismic Zone) Even though these were massive earthquakes, and they could happen again, very few of my American friends seem to have heard about it! Certainly when we think of earthquakes in the U.S.A., we think of the west coast, not the south/mid-west.

The Angry Earth follows the immigration of a privileged family from France, who due to a change in circumstance end up in a small frontier town in the U.S.A. of French and English. Their poor, twelve year old maidservant, Fleur, is left with most of the responsibility of getting them started in this new place, becoming one of the strong and independent heroine's that are Sally's specialty. In this already challenging setting, the family and town then all face the total upheaval of their lives and homes when the earthquakes begin.

As with all of her historical fiction books, Sally has researched this thoroughly and includes many real historical figures in the town of New Madrid and beyond. As a Canadian, growing up with the War of 1812 history all around my area and even reading this during the bicentennial of the War of 1812, I was interesting in the little bits of history mentioned leading up to that war. I also appreciated the musings and debates of the characters about still very relevant topics. In today's current American and Canadian political climate where it is popular to insult intelligence and many feel they are sufficiently educated more by FB one-liners and comedic satire than even attempting to really learn about the issues, the thoughts of a character pondering the goals of this new country to rule themselves through the democratic process stuck with me:

"Yet how could men who know no history rule intelligently? Europe sensibly educated its ruling classes. But if all men should rule--and even possibly women one day: who knew?--then all must be educated, and well-educated, or such a democracy would destroy itself by its own ignorance. "
Overall, I felt that the story took a little longer to get going than most of Sally's books, but that once it got going it was as compelling as her others and I couldn't put it down. I felt for the characters' loss and terror and confusion and was pulling for them to come together. And as so often happens with Sally's books, I didn't want it to end and when that inevitably happened, I immediately started looking up some of the historical references to continue the story for myself. Google and Wikipedia make that so much easier now. :)

This is an entertaining read for those interested in historical fiction, strong female characters and/or natural disasters.

For more of loopyker's reviews, check out her blog, Loopy Ker's Life.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Stephen Nein

    My Midwestern is showing - I've known about the New Madrid fault line since 1990 when Browning made that media sensation prediction and The Des Moines Register went full-on apeshit in a frenzy of sensationalism. Being the dork I am despite living here all my life, I've never felt any of the minor quakes that pop up every few years.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I'm from the east coast, so we didn't learn anything about the middle part. I've never heard about this, but I will now be checking it out. I love historical fiction, but I generally stick to the European stuff. This sounds interesting, though. Thanks for the review.

  • alice20c

    Actually, I've known about the history and geology of the New Madrid fault since I was a child. Many other Americans have too. In fact, there was a novel already published about the subject in 1999 called The Rift, about a present day earthquake there. Some scientists think the fault is going dormant, others think it's still active and an issue.

    As far as the various thoughts on democracy, I find the emphasis on the word "rule" annoying and monarchical. We wanted to be self-governing. The whole point was laws were to rule, not people. The people work to establish and uphold laws, then come together to administer the affairs of state. The idea of a "ruling class" makes me ill, and prone to revolution. (Thanks 8th ggrandfather!)

  • loopyker

    That's kind of the point. It was a European in 1811 trying to understand the different system, so him thinking in terms of "ruling" would be in character.

  • Guest

    I'm ashamed to say that I'd never heard of this event! Your review is a much-needed corrective. Sounds like an interesting book.

  • BWeaves

    Same here!

    I grew up in England, hence I didn't get any USA history. Then when I moved to the USA in high school, they didn't teach history. Seriously. Everything I know about US history is due to Ken Burns.

  • ,


    The Mississippi River ran backwards. I thought everybody knew that.

    I see Maine had an earthquake the other day, and of course recently northern Virginia.

    Earthquakes: Not just for California anymore!

  • DeltaJuliet

    Yes! That earthquake in Maine was quite a surprise.......first one I've ever experienced!

  • Guest

    I'm Canadian--that's my excuse, when it comes to US history.

    /a likely story

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