Two Wings To Fly Away by Penny Mickelbury

Two Wings To Fly Away by Penny Mickelbury braids together the historic, romance, and thriller genres in a story about personal and racial relationships and found family in Philadelphia on the eve of the Civil War.

Eugenia Oliver escaped slavery to find a new life as a seamstress in the free black community in Philadelphia, but no one can escape the spectre of violence and injustice that permeates even “free” states on the eve of the Civil War. Eugenia’s work for the Underground Railroad and to support less fortunate members of the community would bring her into peril on their own–without her habit of plunging into danger. And that’s before she falls in love with Abigail Read, a well-off white woman who runs a boarding house and offends high society by refusing to contemplate marriage.

The Characters

Eugenia is a delightfully complex character and Mickelbury does an excellent job of depicting the tensions and hazards of how she navigates the racial divide. Abby Read is a bit more briefly sketched, but this is primarily Eugenia’s story.

The Writing Style

The combined plot threads of romance, adventure, and mystery kept the story moving forward though they didn’t always connect into a unified whole. To some extent the book shifts through several independent stories that overlap at the edges. Mickelbury’s prose is vividly descriptive and brings the historic setting to life in such visual detail that I came out of the initial chapters feeling like I’d watched a movie rather than reading text. (In fact, this would make a great movie!)

The Pros

Two Wings To Fly Away brings some intensely-desired diversity to the lesbian historical field. (Mickelbury herself is black and specializes in writing about black women’s experiences.) The world building in the book is solid and detailed.

The Cons

I had a few points of confusion regarding point of view. Although the action focuses on the two women, the point of view shifts among a much larger number of characters, often without being well signaled in the text. Not a “con” but more of a content description: the romance is prominent but is only one of several plot elements, so those with a very strict definition may not consider this a “romance novel with a capital R”. Sexual content is implied by off-page (which is not a con for me but, again, is something many readers like to know in advance).

The Conclusion

If you’ve been looking for f/f romance that breaks away from the standard tropes and brings a refreshing voice to the page, I solidly recommend Two Wings To Fly Away. (I’m definitely looking forward to the promised sequel.)

Excerpt from Two Wings To Fly Away by Penny Mickelbury

“Slave catcher!”

The hissed word hung in the air, freezing Eugenia Oliver’s insides colder than the damp November evening air chilled her skin. Though Eli’s bare feet made no sound on the worn cobblestones and his two brief words were whispered, Genie’s body reverberated as if a cannon had been fired next to her. She was headed home. She was almost there. Almost safe and warm. But she changed direction and walked toward Main Street. The fast, loud pounding of her heart and her suddenly dry mouth were her fear manifested. If a slave catcher really was prowling in the Quarter and Genie really was walking toward him instead of running away . . .

Dressed as Eugene Oliver as she often was, because even a Black man was safer than a Black woman alone, she moved with purpose toward the danger coming her way. The white man slowed his gait from a trot to a long-legged stride as he entered Thatcher Lane. Definitely looking for someone. His head swiveled from side to side. His eyes searched but found nothing but shuttered windows and barred doors.

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