Up front, so you know, this book, the sequel to Chains, isn’t lighthearted fluff. It picks up several months after Isabel and Curzon escape the Brits in New York. They had wandered around a bit, trying to get some money and squabbling about whether to head south to rescue Isabel’s sister Rose. That led to a split between the two, something which Curzon thought he wouldn’t mind: it’s better to be on one’s own. However, through a couple of accidental encounters, Curzon’s ended up in the Continental Army. Again. He signs on to save his skin just as the army’s heading into winter encampment at (dead giveaway because of the title, here) Valley Forge. This is where the book gets bitter: Anderson spends some time making sure that her readers know just what the conditions at Valley Forge were (not good is an understatement). Anderson, always good at evoking mood, pours cold weather off the page. But this is historical fiction, not nonfiction, and the story is Curzon’s, not that of Valley Forge. We follow his struggles: not only to eat and stay warm, but also to get accepted at camp as an African-American soldier. Sure, he’s registered as a free man (even though he’s not, technically), and yet there are prejudices and obstacles to overcome, even among his friends.
Then his old master shows up and decides that Curzon isn’t a free man. Which complicates things, to say the least. And now Curzon has to figure out how to escape all over again.
This book came with expectations, because it’s Anderson’s work and because Chains is so brilliantly done. I’m not sure it lived up to them, however. It’s a good story and Curzon’s an interesting enough main character, and once I picked it up, I did enjoy what I was reading. Anderson does the history justice, and more so: she paints a picture of the situation that can’t be found in the history books. The story doesn’t clip along terribly fast, but it managed okay. However, in the end, I felt it was missing that something to keep me turning the pages, to draw me to the book in between readings.
That said, I’m quite curious to see what happens in the next book.
Rated: Mild, for mild swearing and some intense situations involving soldiers, encampment and war.