New Orleans, May 1862. The largest city in the ill-starred confederacy has fallen to Union troops under the soon-to-be-infamous General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler. The city is rife with madness and rage. When twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack disappears from his home, he draws into the unrest his mother, Elise, a mixed-race woman passing for white, and his father, Angel, whose long and wicked life is drawing to a close. What follows forces mother and son into a dark new world: Joseph must come to grips with his father’s legacy of violence and his growing sentiment for Cuban exile Marina Fandal, the only survivor of a shipwreck that claimed the lives of her parents. Elise must struggle to maintain a hold on her sanity, her son and her own precarious station, but is threatened by the resurgence of a troubling figure from her past, Dr. Emile Sabatier, a fanatical physician who adores disease and is deeply mired in the conspiracy and intrigue surrounding the occupation of the city. Their paths all intersect with General Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a man who history will call a beast, but whose avarice and brutal acumen are ideally suited to the task of governing an “ungovernable city.”
Alternating between the perspectives of the five characters of Elise, Dr. Sabatier, Joseph, Marina, and Butler, Secessia weaves a tapestry of ravenous greed and malformed love, of slavery and desperation, set within the baroque melting-pot that is New Orleans. A Gothic tableaux vivant of epic scope and intimate horror, Secessia is the netherworld reflection of the conflict between north and south.
Wascom's second novel takes place in beguiling, fetid, and unruly New Orleans in the year 1862, as the city is overtaken by Union troops. Mayhem ensues, since the Big Easy is in no mood to comply with the blue-belly Gen. Butler, sent by the North to take control. The streets are rife with dissent as Butler tries to restore order, imprisoning city fathers and hanging agitators. Not long after the city falls, Angel Woolsack, an abusive, murderous rogue from Wascom's first novel, The Blood of Heaven, is found with his brains blown out. Other than his son, 12-year-old Joseph, no one cares much whether it was suicide, and the body is tidied up by household slaves before anyone is the wiser. Joseph and his mother, Elise, a descendant of slaves, must navigate a world turned inside out but still unsympathetic to the rights of women and people of African descent. Joseph becomes enamored with a Cuban refugee girl rescued from a shipwreck by Union soldiers, who lives with the madams next door, while Elise is caught in the snares of the sinister Dr. Sabatier, a mysterious figure from her past. Though most of the characters are as passionate, selfish, and greedy as the city itself, Wascom makes every one of them a pleasure to read, effortlessly inhabiting each of their specific psychologies. His fecund language is as overripe as the setting, but this is such a good yarn that readers will be totally on board with the whole rambunctious package.