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3.5 22
by John Jakes

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Charleston follows the lives, loves and shifting fortunes of the unforgettable Bell family from the American Revolution through the turbulent antebellum years to the savage defeat of the Confederacy-and represents America's premier storyteller at his very best.


Charleston follows the lives, loves and shifting fortunes of the unforgettable Bell family from the American Revolution through the turbulent antebellum years to the savage defeat of the Confederacy-and represents America's premier storyteller at his very best.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A great read...a family intrigue that stretches across sweeping historical events." -Charleston Post and Courier
In Charleston, a master of historical fiction spins a tale of a 19th-century southern aristocratic dynasty divided by love, murder, betrayal, and family secrets. A memorable and realistic multigenerational epic.
Don McLeese
Characters in the latest multigenerational epic from Jakes, author of fifteen consecutive bestselling novels, including On Secret Service, describe Charleston, South Carolina, as the "cradle of secession" and "the most hated place in the Confederacy." Critical readers might be tempted to dub it the capital of stilted dialogue and soap-opera coincidence, as the author celebrated for the historical accuracy of his North and South trilogy traces the rise and fall of this Southern port through the travails of the ill-fated Bell family. From the Revolutionary War until the aftermath of the Civil War, the Bells embody the tensions that threaten to tear America apart—between slave owners and abolitionists, blacks and whites, men and women, patriots and profiteers. Much of the book concerns the life, loves and tragedies of Alexandra Bell, a free-spirited, anti-slavery crusader. Among her other distinguishing features, Alex appears to be Jakes' only female character without a remarkable bosom. Otherwise, his women are described in the following ways: "stunningly proportioned," "blessed with disproportionately large breasts," "a voluptuous creature" with "generous breasts," "soft and buxom beauty" and a "ripe body men found desirable." Who's writing this stuff—John Jakes or Hugh Hefner?
Publishers Weekly
Jakes, the bestselling master of historical fiction, begins his newest saga in 1720, a mere 50 years after the first settlers occupy the still-rustic village of Charles Town at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, in what will become the state of South Carolina. Arriving from a primitive western trading post, Sydney Greech, a 20-year-old British immigrant, and his pretty, pregnant bride, Bess, take a more euphonious surname as they begin a new life of menial labor and spawn the Bell clan, whose successive generations will be bound up with the history and fate of Charleston. Much of the book is set between 1779 and the 1866 post-Civil War rebellion in South Carolina; it takes up the story of 21-year-old Edward Bell (grandson of Sydney) and his rivalry with his older and more devious brother, Adrian, who steals his sweetheart while Edward is studying in London. The intrigue then comes to focus on great-granddaughter Alexandra, born in 1815, who grows up to see her secret black lover murdered and travels north to become an abolitionist crusader. Members of the extended Bell family often find themselves on opposite sides of the various ideological divides that dominate the first hundred years of U.S. history, and their story is a dark tapestry of betrayal, revenge and murder as royalists clash with patriots, Unionists with Confederates. Fans of Jakes's earlier hits should find plenty of drama and antebellum flavor in this lusty epic. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Jakes's many best-selling historical novels include the recent On Secret Service, a tale of Civil War espionage. Charleston is the story of both the Bell family and the city of Charleston, SC, through three major epochs the American Revolution, the dangerous years before the Civil War, and the Civil War itself. The Bell family includes a predictable host of heroes and villains who deal with the issues and events of their respective periods, with slavery the most pervasive. Charleston is action-filled and fast-paced, perhaps too fast-paced, as it leaps from one major event to another. Overly ambitious and disappointingly lacking in character development and historical depth, the novel pales in comparison with other Jakes novels, such as Homeland, America, California Gold, and even the North-South series. For larger collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/02.] Robert Conroy, Warren, MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Jakes (On Secret Service, 2000, etc.) takes another big bite out of southern history with a tragic multigenerational saga set in Charleston, South Carolina. Book One limns the Revolutionary War years (more battles during that conflict were fought in South Carolina than in any other colony); Book Two portrays the expansion of slavery and the cotton trade from 1822 to 1842; Book Three chronicles the final period of the War for Secession and the brighter morning arising with Reconstruction not that far-distant. (Two sections entitled "The Years Between" fill in the gaps for 1793-1822 and 1842-63.) General Sherman, Jakes tells us, saw that the whole Union Army "burned with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance on South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her." The author focuses on all levels of southern society-the belles at their balls, the cowards and patriots-and shapes vengeance and melodrama with great force. The author's pleasure in this many-voiced hymn to his home state of 25 years comes through strongly: popular historical fiction at its most readable.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.36(w) x 6.84(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Summons

One night in early November 1779, he dreamed a terrifying dream.

He saw a skiff dancing across Charleston Harbor, running before an offshore breeze that raised what mariners called white horses on the water. Lydia sat in the skiff's bow, laughing and enjoying herself; her hair flew in the wind like a yellow banner.

He couldn't see the face of the man at the tiller, only his back. But he was not the man, of that he was sure. Though he was athletic, a superb horseman, he'd never learned to swim or sail. His mother called it passing strange, since his father, a wharf owner, made his living from the commerce of the creeks and rivers and oceans.

Unseen bells began to peal-the eight church bells of St. Michael's parish, cast by Messrs. Lester and Pack, London, where he lay dreaming. The bells didn't ring the sequence of notes that called the faithful to Sunday worship. They rang another familiar call, the call to calamity: a fire, an impending hurricane. Great danger.

When he woke in his room on the third floor above Fountain Court, the meaning of the dream came clear. He'd been absent from America a year and a half. The desirable young woman he wanted to marry could be slipping away from him.

Edward Bell, twenty-one, was at that time studying at the Middle Temple. He had resisted his father's wish to send him there, saying, "I have no ambition to practice law in South Carolina."

"Nor do most of the young men from Charleston who enroll at the Inns of Court, but it will be useful. It broadens you, like a grand tour. It makes you a keener student of business contracts. It prepares you to be a leader of society-to hold office if you wish."

"Why not send Adrian? He's firstborn."

"I don't mean to speak unkindly of your brother, but to be truthful, he hasn't the head for it. Adrian's a shrewd young man. Shrewd is not the same as smart."

"But we're in the middle of a war with England."

"Where do you think we learned that we have a right to rebel against the injustices of the king's ministers? From English constitutional law, taught at the Middle Temple. Who stood up to the king in Parliament and defended our right to rebel? Edmund Burke, of the Middle Temple."

"Is this a scheme to keep me out of the militia?"

"Do you want to join the militia, Edward?"

"Not particularly. I'm not an ardent patriot like you."

"You're more of one than your brother. Worry about the militia at such time as the British return to Carolina. It may never happen. They've left us alone three years now." In '76, Col. William Moultrie and his brave men had repulsed an invasion attempt at the palmetto log fort on nearby Sullivan's Island, the fort now bearing Moultrie's name. After that humiliation Gen. Henry Clinton and Adm. Sir Peter Parker sailed away and Great Britain concentrated on fighting in the North.

Edward ran out of objections. Soon thereafter he departed for London and the Inns of Court.

* * *

On a cold but windless evening in early December, he left his apartment in Essex Court, crossed Fountain Court, and entered Middle Temple Hall. Edward was a tall and lanky young man, not handsome, but possessed of strong features and an engaging smile. There was no fat on him. He'd inherited his height and build from his father, Tom Bell. He was dressed like a sober colonial in a double-breasted kersey greatcoat, a white stock and lace cravat, black leather top boots, and a black felt hat with a flat crown and broad brim. He owned a wig but preferred to keep his brown hair tied back with a black ribbon. He carried a stout walking stick for self-defense at night.

In the corridor he passed a broad open doorway on his right. Students and masters still sat at table in the great hall, a high cathedral of a room walled with plaques bearing the arms of the Templars from whom the Middle Temple took its name. Student friends of Edward's were deep into port and private argument, even as an old lawyer droned on from the dais. Something about torts, in which Edward had no interest. Since coming to London he'd spent most of his time at gambling clubs, cockfights, bearbaitings, and his favorite table at the Carolina Coffeehouse in Birchin Lane, where he hobnobbed with rowdy clerks from the London branch of Crokatt's, a Charleston trading firm.

No one in the Temple's great hall noticed him as he slipped by. A door at the end of the corridor brought him to the water gate. As usual, a boatman stood by, waiting to bear a young gentleman off to the night's adventures. Edward stepped down on a thwart.

"South Bank. I'll show you where."

Half an hour later he elbowed his way to the edge of an oval cockfighting pit raised twenty inches above the floor in the center of a large, bare room. Noisy and smoky, the room opened off a narrow passage fittingly called Cocker's Alley. It was packed with roughly dressed lowlifes and young men in fancy silks and powdered wigs. The pit's carpeted floor was strewn with feathers. Dark stains showed where birds had bled. Cocks ready for their matches crowed periodically, adding to the racket.

Edward spoke to a stout man. "Anyone special here tonight?"

"Corday's here, with his black-breasted red. Won the three-day main at Clerkenwell last week."

"Corday." Edward frowned. He'd had run-ins with that gentleman, chiefly over the American rebellion. Mr. Clive Corday had come down from Oxford to study at Gray's Inn. He was notorious for spending even less time at it than Edward did. He was well placed; a relative sat in the House of Lords. Edward always bet against Corday's birds because he detested the man.

A shout went up as Corday appeared, his feeder right behind him carrying the bird. The black-breasted red weighed almost five pounds, Edward guessed. He was a fierce bird with cropped tail feathers, a comb cut into a half moon, and steel fighting spurs. Corday greeted his admirers boisterously. He was a fleshy young dandy with a round face perpetually red and sweaty. He always dressed with fashionable flamboyance, in this case a coat of Italian silk with vertical red and white stripes, a solid red waistcoat, and striped knee stockings that matched his coat.

Corday was contemptuous of the American colonies and all who lived there. It showed when he spied Edward and favored him with a slow nod, a scornful smile. Edward returned the nod, pulled his purse from his pocket, and pointed at the contender. Corday's face reddened all the more.

"Save my spot, if you please." Edward tipped the stout man tuppence and went off to bet.

Corday's first opponent, a loutish fellow wearing farmer's boots, stepped up to the pit looking hangdog, as though his smaller four-pound bird had already lost. At a signal from the master of the matches, Corday and his opponent pitted their birds close to one another, then quickly retreated to the floor outside the oval. Corday's red crowed defiantly. The birds circled one another, darting their heads forward. Suddenly the red flew at the opponent and began to slash with its beak and spurs. The patrons applauded and yelled profane encouragements.

The birds fought fiercely, leaping off the carpet, slashing and pecking. The red disposed of the smaller cock in ten minutes. It lay dying, its head flopping on its neck, its side torn open and bleeding. Edward had wagered two shillings and lost. Corday glanced at him with a smug smile, then turned to accept congratulations from a crowd of sycophants.

A second challenger carried his bird into the pit. This one lasted almost half an hour before the red disposed of it. The third opponent died in twenty minutes, and the red finished off the fourth and fifth in half that time. Corday's feeder picked up the red while, in the back of the hall, the next contenders crowed raucously. Corday's prize was ten guineas. Having steadfastly bet against him, Edward had lost ten shillings of his father's money.

Corday found Edward in the crowd. "Another bad evening, Mr. Bell?" Corday stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his fine waistcoat. Trickles of sweat had washed powder from his wig onto his temples.

Edward stared him down. "I'll get my money back one day."

"Wagering against my big red? I doubt it. You Americans never know when you're whipped. Well, you soon will be, now that Clinton's at sea."

"What are you talking about?"

"Letter from a cousin in New York. Serves aboard the flagship of Admiral Arbuthnot. Big armada's forming up, to sail within the month. Sir Henry Clinton, nine thousand men-a major campaign in the South. I don't doubt they'll wall up your city and starve you unwashed rabble into submission."

This was stunning news, though perhaps Edward should have seen it coming. A month ago a letter from his father had reported that the British were disquieted because they'd been unable to win a significant victory in the North. Further, the French now stood with the Americans in the war. No doubt Clinton had smarted ever since the defeat at Fort Moultrie. It made a new attack on Charleston seem inevitable.

Tom Bell's letter had sounded a further note of melancholy. Charleston's revolutionary zeal, so hot five years earlier, was waning as the economically hurtful war dragged on.

Corday took advantage of Edward's stunned silence. "It would surely suit me if you were one of those beaten down by General Clinton, Mr. Bell. You're nothing but an ill-bred parvenu. What's more, you dress atrociously."

"And you're an arrogant ass, Mr. Corday. You dress like a whoremonger."

Corday's hand flew up to deliver a stinging slap. Edward staggered back. Corday grinned and stepped in, ready to land another blow. Edward rammed his stick into Corday's middle, throwing him off-stride.

The crowd gave them room. Patrons applauded and encouraged Corday. Edward dropped the stick, swung up his right fist, and blasted Corday's chin from underneath. With his left fist he hammered Corday's soft belly. Corday slipped to his knees, gagging. Edward seized Corday's collar at the nape, pushed hard, and slammed his forehead on the floor twice.

Corday flopped on his side. His wig fell off, baring his shaved skull. Edward snatched up his stick and bashed Corday with the knobby end. Clawing at the floor, Corday struggled to rise. Edward hit him again and Corday stretched out with a sigh.

All around him Edward heard ominous grumblings from Corday's partisans. He waved his stick at those nearest-"One side, damn you"-and they fell back. He left the building at a fast walk, not eager to become a victim of a mob.

Once into the darkened ways of the South Bank, he sprinted for the water stairs. He lost his hat and didn't go back for it.

Crossing the river, he made a decision. It was time to abandon his studies. The new British campaign could mean great danger for his family, but more persuasive, perhaps, was the dream: the bells ringing the alarm, an unseen rival stealing Lydia. He wanted Lydia Glass with all his young man's blood and fire. He hadn't heard from her since arriving in London; she said she never wrote letters. It was time to go home, before he lost her.

-Reprinted from Charleston by John Jakes by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. Copyright © John Jakes, 2002. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A great read...a family intrigue that stretches across sweeping historical events." -Charleston Post and Courier

Meet the Author

John Jakes is the bestselling author of Charleston, the Kent Family Chronicles, the North and South trilogy, On Secret Service, California Gold, Homeland, and American Dreams. Descended from a soldier of the Virginia Continental Line who fought in the American Revolution, Jakes is one of today’s most distinguished authors of historical fiction.

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Charleston 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Bill Smallwood More than 1 year ago
as usual with a john jakes book very interesting. between the historical references and the family aspect i always find his books intriguing and this one was no different. he is one of the best i have found.
KathleenKO More than 1 year ago
Another John Jakes' excellant book! Charleston is a must see city!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with some of the other reviews on this web page. I personally could not put this book down, but felt that it wasn't up to the typical John Jakes standard. I found the main character Alex too abrasive at times and hard to relate too. I also felt there were too many dissertations on the history going on around the characters and not enough character development itself. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this type of book, but only after they had read the Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy first.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A realistic novel detailing several families in Charleston during the Civil War period. John Jakes is an excellent weaver of fact and fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book mainly because I was born in Charleston and spent the majority of my like a South Carolinian. I found the story interesting, but only moderately so. We all know that times were tough in 18th and 19th century America, but John Jakes would have you belive that nobody ever died who did not come to a violent end. Also, Jakes loves to employ the 'chance meeting' with a prominent historical figure as a literary device. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it seems forced, as in the connection of the character with Denmark Vessey, accused leader of a slave uprising. John Jakes tries to cover too much in the scope of his stories and the result is unsatisfying to someone looking for a solid tale revolving around the history of the city of Charleston.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are not enough words to describe just how brilliant this book is. It is without a doubt a must read for everyone.
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Great historical read
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jgy More than 1 year ago
Book was good, but got very slow towards the middle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I struggled through this novel and only completed it because I am a huge fan of John Jakes. I was expecting a story evolving around Charleston and its characters but found this was a story mainly of characters but not the city itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a multi-generational saga of several inter-connected Charleston families that spans from the founding of the city to Reconstruction. Masterfully weaving his fictional characters in with the rich history of this South Carolina city, Jakes presents a wide assortment of citizens and their diverse beliefs. All citizens of Charleston are not portrayed as the stereotypical hot-headed slave owner fighting for secession. Thankfully, Jakes creates characters that represent the opinions and convictions of a broad spectrum of Charlestonians. This prohibits Jakes from presenting an indepth look at each character individually but he successfully balances this with an action packed plot. The characters that Jakes created are realistic and engaging. One of the lead female characters, Alex, was born and raised in Charleston yet recognized the inhumanity of slavery. Her convictions became so strong that she defied convention and traveled alone to the North to work with abolitionist groups. Overall, the story begins slowly, but with characters as alive and intriguing as Alex and her acquaintances, it quickly builds into another John Jakes page-turner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read every single John Jakes book and am a complete lover of history. I waited for this book to come out for two months and wow what a let down. Usually, after reading one of his novels I feel as though I personally know the characters, their homes, and their histories. This book moved WAY TOO FAST!!!!!!! Not only do I not remember half the character's names I do not even know where they came from... I am not disappointed when they disappear from the story due to accidents etc. I just don't care!!! This is not usually the case... the main character is definately no Orry Main even though there is a reference made to the Mains in this novel. Overall, the storyline may not have been too bad but it became more of a history lesson than the stories we have come to love and expect out of John Jakes. I look forward to the next SAGA... anyone who tells a tale like he does needs more than a 500 page span to do so. This just looks like he had to make a deadline to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a huge fan of John Jakes' books, I eagerly awaited for the arrival of this new book. I was somewhat disappointed after reading this book because of the following reasons. The character development was weak. You never felt like you knew or understood the characters like in past Jakes' novels. Too much ground was covered in too short of time. The book basically went from the 1770's to 1866 in only 500 pages. Finally, the interaction with the fictional characters in the actual History is not as fascinating as in previous Jakes' novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read every book by John Jakes and I bought his latest book Charleston the day it was released. I'm sorry to say,this is not his best work. The story jumps around from one event to another so quickly,it's hard to find much of a story except for the history. I'm very disappointed and I hope his next book is more like his former work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of Jakes for years and eagerly await his new books. This one is terrible to say the least. The characters are weak, drift in and out of the story with little or no development. I was very disappointed in this book.