Isabel is a slave. But this is not a plantation in the Civil War South; it is 1776, and New York is bristling with the news of an impending British invasion. Isabel and her younger sister Ruth’s former master died, and instead of being set free, like they thought they would be, they are sold to a couple of Tories: Mr. and Madame Lockton. Then they are taken to New York, where they are caught in the middle of the revolution. It’s just a matter of time, and circumstances, before Isabel decides which side she will be on. And what price that will cost her.
First: this book is beautiful. I’m not usually a tactile reader, but in this instance, I kept looking at the more-than-perfect cover, stroking the pages, and loving the font. Especially the blurb on the back cover. I could tell much care was taken with the design of the book. And I, for one, appreciated it.
In the interview at the back of the book, Anderson says that the whole slave issue cannot be broken down into “good guys” and “bad guys”. Which is an understatement. There are sympathetic characters on both sides of the revolution — while the politics of the revolution play a role in this book, it is not an indicator of character. (Nor should it ever be.) Chains is thoroughly complex and unflinching, presenting the issues at hand — freedom, slavery, revolution — with honesty. Anderson doesn’t write down to the reader; the book is quite brutal at times. That’s not to say the book is harsh. Rather, interspersed with all the brutality aremoments of absolute poignancy. The book just about ripped my heart in two at parts. Isabel as a character is not just compelling; she’s strong and captivating, and honest. I felt for her, I adored her, I cheered for her.
In short, it’s historical fiction at its finest. But then, it’s Laurie Halse Anderson.
Rated: Mild for mild swearing and some intense situations.