Enter to win critique giveaway through January 30! Scroll down one post.
This book for ages 10 and up, like its predecessor Chains, is set during the American Revolution. We leave Isabel, the protagonist of the first book, to follow her friend Curzon as he accidentally ends up in the battle of Saratoga, makes friends and enemies with other soldiers, spends the winter at Valley Forge, and through it all, wonders if Isabel is still alive--and if he, a runaway slave who'd been a Patriot soldier a year prior, can manage to avoid recapture by his master, Bellingham.
Despite a prologue that reminds us how Isabel and Curzon escaped slavery, the book gets off to a fast start. The shooting begins by the third page of chapter 1, and Curzon is drawn inexorably back into the war when he throws a rock at a Redcoat that gives a Patriot soldier a chance to kill him. We see all the horror of the winter at Valley Forge, including months spent in the snow with no shoes or socks, men clad in nothing but literal rags--such soldiers were classified in roll call as "present but unfit for duty"--and no food except "firecake"--flour mixed with water and fried black in the fire.
This book feels a little more like a history lesson than Chains does, and I think that's because Curzon's story follows the war events so closely, whereas Isabel's relationship with her learning-disabled sister Ruth is central to Chains. I loved Chains and wasn't quite as swept away by Forge--but I liked it a lot. A real lot. The history comes alive in the story, the book is painstakingly researched, and in these times of diluted teaching of history, this is history we need to not lose.
Yet it's not all an American history lesson. For instance, when he thinks about Isabel, fifteen-year-old Curzon realizes his thoughts have gone beyond friendship. SPOILERS AHEAD: When he was younger, he'd been taught he shouldn't kiss anyone to whom he couldn't tell the story of how he'd got his name. In a lovely scene, after he's met up with Isabel again (because you know he will, right?) Curzon tells her how his mother, a Brazilian slave, had always whispered to his father in Portuguese, "You are my heart," and that the word for "heart" had been fashioned into his name. And then, Curzon tells us, "Before I could kiss her, Isabel kissed me."
Though the way in which Curzon and Isabel are reunited is a bit of a stretch, I found that only a minor distraction. The story of Isabel and Curzon will be concluded in a third volume, Ashes, which I'll certainly be picking up. Appendix, glossary and acknowledgments included. Forge is definitely recommended.