Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is a historical novel loosely based on the true story of Cathay Williams, a freed slave who disguised herself as a man and served with the Buffalo Soldiers of the US Army. The fictionalized Cathy’s story begins when Philip Sheridan’s Union Army liberates the plantation where she was enslaved, and mistaking her for a man, assigns her as an assistant for the cook. The real Sheridan was a problematic figure, but the rapport and eventual friendship between Cathy and Sheridan in this novel is one of its most charming aspects.
After the war, Cathy decides there isn’t much opportunity for her as a freed person, and disguises herself as a man under the pseudonym William Cathay. In the novel, she gets herself into the cavalry and is known as a sharpshooter. Nevertheless, she faces the challenge of keeping her real identity secret amid bullying from the other soldiers and the fear of the danger she faced if discovered.
The earlier parts of the novel seem stronger to me as a plot in which Cathy has romantic feelings towards her sergeant dominate the latter half of the book. I suppose it’s a natural plotline, but it seems the most obvious trope of stories in which someone disguises themselves as the opposite gender going back at least to Shakespeare. On the other hand, if you are drawn to romance, it provides a nice balance to the grim realities of war, toxic masculinity, and racial prejudice depicted in the novel.
My enjoyment of this novel was greatly improved by the terrific voices that Bahni Turpin provides in her narration.
Recommended books: Jubilee by Margaret Walker, Blindspot by Jane Kamensky