The Earth Remains

A Novel

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
704 Pages
Reviewed on 04/21/2023
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Author Biography

Southern author and former teacher, Shelley Burchfield enjoys writing "what-if" historical fiction that flips notorious events upside down. Shelley lives in beautiful upstate South Carolina with her husband and a menagerie of animals. She pulls inspiration for her novels from the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains beyond her windows and tales told by friends and neighbors.
A Southerner by birth, Burchfield's love of history is evident in her debut historical fiction novel, THE EARTH REMAINS, published in November 2021.

Her second Southern historical fiction novel, CLIMBING TO THE SUN, will be published in October 2023.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Trudi LoPreto for Readers' Favorite

Earth Remains by Shelley Burchfield spans many years. The story starts in September 1848 and takes us late into 1922. It was bad times in the South, both before and after the Civil War was fought. Polly Burgiss, a white woman, is the main character. Ben and his mama Ona, along with several other slaves, play an essential role in the story. Polly’s hardships begin early in her life with the death of her two brothers. Ona is the slave who cares for Polly and is always there in times of trouble. Ben is Ona’s son and a hard worker who dreams of being a free man someday. We meet many of the other slaves working for Miss Polly, along with the overseer Tom Roper and the man she marries, John Stone. Polly faces many tough times, hard decisions, and frightening situations, but she stands tall and always fights her way back.

Earth Remains is the best book I have read in a long time, causing me to ignore my chores, stay up late and even miss a meal. I believe it can easily become the next Gone With the Wind as a great book and an epic movie. Shelley Burchfield is a brilliant writer who gives us a story with an incredible plot from page one until the last word. In addition, she has created an emotional group of characters meant to be loved or hated. Polly, Ono, Ben, Tom, Cissie, Kate, John, and others became real people to me, and I was magically transported right into the pages. I loved The Earth Remains very much and highly recommend it and anything else that Burchfield writes; it doesn’t get much better than this.

Jennifer Ibiam

In the early 1800s, James and Mary Burgiss moved to South Carolina after their wedding, where they built the Whitehall residence. The couple prospered and had three children, two boys and a girl named Polly. Their lives changed forever after a robbery at the mercantile left their two sons gruesomely murdered. Polly witnessed this event when she was eight years old and carried the burden into adulthood. She never healed. Polly sought companionship and fell into the arms of John Stone, her new husband, against everyone’s wishes. Little did she know he had a dirty secret linked to her childhood. Will she discover what dark secret John kept or live happily ever after to the shame of naysayers? The Earth Remains by Shelley Burchfield reveals the story.

The Earth Remains by Shelley Burchfield is a fantastic gift that continued giving from the beginning until the end. It is centered on secrets, scandals, deception, pain, loss, grief, and revenge. It also discusses slavery in the nineteenth century and the fight for its abolishment, blending facts and fiction. I loved the unique storyline and the well-developed multiple facets. The characters are memorable, and I loved Ona so much. She defined stooping to conquer. There were many defining moments for me where Ona won the war through wisdom, even though she was disadvantaged. Polly was another beautiful character I loved watching grow from being a naive girl to a powerful woman. The letters between Ona and her Miss Girl at the end of the story made me tear up and nostalgic about my past pen pal. The story took me on an emotional rollercoaster and brought me to a satisfying finish. Thank you, Shelley.

Asher Syed

The Earth Remains by Shelley Burchfield is a historical fiction novel set in the antebellum South and revolves around a young slaveholding plantation owner named Polly Burgiss. Tragedy strikes Polly's family early on and she is left as the sole Burgiss child when her brothers are brutally murdered. The aftermath of this sends her mother Mary into a mental health spiral that puts Polly in the almost exclusive care of her slaves and, one in particular, a house slave named Ona. Years later, Mary dies and Polly is the sole beneficiary and owner of her deceased father's estate and everything in it, including its slaves. She is being courted by a man of questionable background named John Stone, who asks for her hand in marriage when he heard Mary had died. Polly is compliant as John takes immediate control of the running of parallel properties, but things take a dark turn when slowly who John is and what he's done starts to be revealed. As the Civil War races toward Whitehall, Polly is faced with questions of loyalty to whom is more rightful and deserving, and whether or not she has the tenacity for a personal reckoning of her own.

The Earth Remains by Shelley Burchfield shows off the author's skill in describing an almost cinematic landscape and the working of a cotton plantation as slavery begins to be slowly dismantled, or at least by law even if not in practice. Burchfield's writing is clean and tight, the pacing is solid, and I personally found that the dialogue came across as uniquely authentic. Ona and her care for her son Ben are affectionately conveyed, and I did get a little choked up by a tender moment between mother and son when circumstances force him to step in to save another slave he loves. Now, there is the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed and it's a big one. Under the laws of personalty, Polly as a single white woman no longer constrained by primogeniture and with not a single law to disallow for it, had every right to free her slaves. She did not, by choice or ignorance, but it doesn't matter. As a result, some will find that this makes her deeply unlikeable as a character. We have to put that out there, and there it is. As a man of color, I still found enjoyment in this book due to its rich period details and the simple day-to-day living that so often is overlooked. Burchfield has the benefit of length on her side as this is a large, ambitious novel and that is why the more nuanced aspects flesh out the story entirely. Overall, a worthy read.

Karen Johnston

I LOVED this book! As well as being extremely well written it brought information to my attention that I had not been exposed to as a white girl growing up in the south. I experienced every emotion imaginable as I read THE EARTH REMAINS.
More importantly, my eyes have been opened to the struggles that people endure just because of where and to whom they were born.
I definitely hope that Shelley will continue to use her god given gift to enlighten others!