Synod Book Cover Synod
Dan C. Gunderman
Historical Fiction
Zimbell House Publishing
January 9, 2018

The year is 1829. The gruff, self-reliant Goldfinch, a veteran of the War of 1812, has become the anointed leader of an idyllic religious community named Synod, nestled in the Ramapough Mountains of northern New Jersey.
Thanks to the advice of the village's Founders, Synod will become a stop on what would soon be called the “Underground Railroad.” Goldfinch oversees this transition, bringing in a broken runaway family. As southern bounty hunters follow their path and seek to reclaim stolen property, Goldfinch meets a shadowy abolitionist with close ties to the federal government.
As the man recruits Goldfinch into a wider crusade against slavery, Goldfinch also contends with recurring visions—both fiery and prescient. He’s also pitted against Nance, a corrupt politician whose lone pursuit is to eliminate runaway slave dens.

Will Goldfinch return to his roots and take up arms as this conflict reaches the Governor's desk? Will he be able to protect his village from destruction and damnation?


Synod was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synod is a piece of historical fiction revolving around the Underground Railroad. From that, the book has a Free State of Jones/Hell on Wheels type of vibe. It is a bit earlier in American history and takes place in New England, but those are the things this story reminded me of. On the whole Synod stands up, but partway through things do start to get a little weird. Part of the dynamic shifts somewhat suddenly and in an odd direction and this change proved fairly distracting.

The name Synod comes from the settlement that most of the story takes place in or around. It is a small Protestant community that decides to become a waystation on the Underground Railroad. Their community is small with around a dozen people, but they are all hardy survivors constantly ready to work hard. Having a small community means there are few secrets and the lack of privacy makes for many challenges. Emotions run high throughout the story as the added tension of helping runaways is added to the already tense hamlet. The dialogue and characterization are solid, with the speech and character attitudes fitting the era.

Assisting runaways is a noble cause but also a dangerous one and residents of Synod no disillusions about that. Synod is set up with defense in mind and they have armed themselves against both the wilderness and bounty hunters. And the bounty hunters do not care who gets in their way or if their bounties are brought in alive. On the flipside, there are various people from the North involved with helping the Railroad, from churchmen to politicians. But this is where things in Synod (the book) start to get a little weird.

While the story starts out as pure historical fiction, a supernatural element becomes more apparent partway through. It influences characters and events pretty heavily, but never really feels like it fits. If it had stayed subtle that probably would have worked out fine. And in the beginning, it does start that way. But the level of supernatural involvement keeps getting more and more obvious until it is directly affecting the story. It never goes into full Harry Potter type magic, but more of that low-key Stephen King level. That inclusion just drug an otherwise good historical fiction novel down with too much confusion. Beyond that one pothole the story was fine, but it felt like a fairly big pothole.

July 15, 2018

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