ARC | House of Rougeaux by Jenny Jaeckel

A comforting and uplifting family saga, spanning from Martinique to Quebec to Philadelphia and back.

[Goodreads Link]
Published by Black Rose Writing


Content Warnings:
Slavery (British and French Caribbean); rape (brief, non-graphic); parental death; mentions of past child abuse; mention of miscarriage; (brief) student-teacher relationship; unwanted pregnancy.

The Good
– Strong beginning and ending
– Graceful handling of sensitive topics
– No graphic descriptions
– Easy characterization
– Gentle, comforting read
– Effortless, readable prose

The Bad
– Some middle sections feel weak / disjointed
– Hard to feel attached to some characters
– Hard to keep track of the relations at times

(I received a copy of The House of Rougeaux in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Black Rose Writing, and to Jenny Jaeckel for reaching out to me for this opportunity! You can purchase The House of Rougeaux here.)

A comforting and uplifting family saga, spanning from Martinique to Quebec to Philadelphia and back.

Story & Characters—★★★★☆ (3.5 Stars)
The House of Rougeaux begins with Abeje, a young girl and a slave on a sugar cane plantation on Martinique and follows her throughout her life, and then jumps to various descendants through of the family (through the line of Abeje’s niece, Hetty/Ayo) in their times of strife, ranging in time from 1800s to 1960s.

With a family saga, there are varying sections centred around a different character in a different generation in a different year. The House of Rougeaux‘s strongest sections are Abeje’s beginning section, Guillaume’s near the end, and Eleanor’s at the very end. These were the most emotional and enjoyable to read about, I found. Abeje is an easy character for readers to root for: not only do we spend most of her life with her, but she is competent in her abilities and steadfast in her kindness. She faces tough choices, and choosing the harder and kinder choice usually benefits her.

The short section centring around best friends and cousins, Nelie and Azzie, was a smart choice to follow up the Abeje’s weighty section—readers aren’t yet in a place to wholly dedicate themselves to a new character in the same way yet.

Rosalie’s section takes place soon after; she is arguably of the tail end of the same generation as Nelie and Azzie. Set during the Vietnam war, Rosalie’s brother is drafted, and the family reconnects to their Rougeaux roots back in Montreal to find a solution. This is the only section I think would benefit from a different central character. Rosalie is perfectly fine as a character, but so much of the section revolves around Junior and his being drafted, it makes more sense to see his insight here.

Martine’s section is a bit of a bridge, easing us back into the past while still giving readers a concrete touchstone in the sections set later on, and bringing in the musical education passed down through Hetty. Her section has less impact on the reader, but ends on a satisfying note.

Although Hetty’s section ends on a fulfilling and uplifting note, I felt it was the only one that lacked focus and didn’t deliver to the degree it could. Hetty is a critical character to the Rougeaux line, and readers are eager to arrive at her section to learn what happens to her in Quebec. While we do learn of Hetty’s life and her trials and triumphs, her section lacks a focal theme and meanders until we arrive at the conclusion. Additionally, I unexpectedly found her personality less developed than some other central characters.

My favourite sections were the last two sections: Guillaume, Hetty’s son, and Eleanor, Guillaume’s daughter and Hetty’s granddaughter. They were the sections with the most focus and led by strongest written characters after Abeje. Guillaume’s section was really sweet and uplifting, and I enjoyed both the comfort he found in his sister and watching his relationship with Hathaway blossom. I don’t want to say too much and spoil Eleanor’s section, but as the end of both her section and the novel, it brought the saga to a beautiful and satisfying close.

Given the span of the Rougeaux line, I found it hard to keep track of the relationships between characters. Jaeckel does a good job of establishing the individual casts and relationships surrounding each character at the beginning of a new section, but keeping track of how each main character specifically related to the others was sometimes a struggle.

Overall, I found the House of Rougeaux to be a gentle, comforting read. The highs and lows the characters live through feel like a natural part of life, rather than emotional manipulation, and the comfort and support of family and community are always nearby.

Jaeckel does a standout job with her settings, both in terms of historical details, and descriptions of nature, descriptions of settings both large and small, and emotional descriptions. I really appreciated attention to certain details, like the family’s saddlery and the little bits about the leather trade in Guillaume’s travels.

Writing Style—★★★★☆ (4.5 Stars)
Jaeckel wrote The House of Rougeaux in third person, past tense, from seven different characters’ (one per section) points of view.

Jaeckel has a really lovely writing style, a solid blend of form and function. It’s well-developed and graceful while remaining readable.

Themes and Representation—★★★★☆
The House of Rougeaux revolves around themes of family and interconnectedness. As a generational saga, family is first and foremost; whenever someone needs help, or comfort, or guidance, there is someone—near or far—in the (extended) family to assist. Sometimes they can only stay by their side awhile, and sometimes they assist by way of dream or memory, but they’re always there.

There was also an overwhelming sense of interconnectedness, established early on with Abeje’s particular connections, and mirrored throughout the novel.

In terms of representation, the entire family is Black, and Guillaume is gay. There are heavy and triggering topics brought up, but these are handled with grace and not embellished upon simply for the sake of suffering.

Overall—★★★★☆ (3.75 Stars)

Recommended For…
Fans of family sagas; readers looking to enjoy quality writing; readers in search of a comforting read.

Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Family Saga, Literary Historical Fiction, LGBT+

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