In the spring of 1776, Isabel, a teenage slave, and her sister, Ruth, are sold to ruthless, wealthy loyalists in Manhattan. While running errands, Isabel is approached by rebels, who promise her freedom (and help finding Ruth, who has been sent away) if she agrees to spy. Using the invisibility her slave status brings, Isabel lurks and listens as Master Lockton and his fellow Tories plot to crush the rebel uprisings, but the incendiary proof that she carries to the rebel camp doesn’t bring the desired rewards. Like the central character in M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing duet, Isabel finds that both patriots and loyalists support slavery. The specifics of Isabel’s daily drudgery may slow some readers, but the catalogue of chores communicates the brutal rhythms of unrelenting toil, helping readers to imagine vividly the realities of Isabel’s life. The story’s perspective creates effective contrasts. Overwhelmed with domestic concerns, Isabel and indeed all the women in the household learn about the war from their marginalized position: they listen at doors to rooms where they are excluded, and they collect gossip from the streets. Anderson explores elemental themes of power (“She can do anything. I can do nothing,” Isabel realizes about her sadistic owner), freedom, and the sources of human strength in this searing, fascinating story. The extensive back matter includes a documented section that addresses many questions about history that readers will want to discuss.
Mrs. Lassley's Opinion:
Let me tell you, I am not a historical fiction fan...but I could not put this down. The way people treated slaves...other human beings, always amazes me. Hearing this book from Isabel's point of view broke my heart. This is a must read, and I plan on reading the second book, Forge, in the near future.