The year is 1776. Isabel Finch and her younger sister Ruth were promised by their mistress that they would only be slaves to her as long as she lived. But freedom is denied them even after the old woman’s death. A relative sells them for his own gain, and Isabel and Ruth are taken against their will to the frighteningly unknown New York City. Isabel discovers that her new ruthless masters are Tories who support King George, while other colonists striving for independence would be willing to offer her help for information she might overhear in their house. War seems closer and closer each day in New York, and Isabel’s own battle for freedom continues alongside the political struggle. She slowly realizes that neither the British nor the American rebels intend to abolish slavery. If she is going to be liberated, she cannot depend on anyone but herself.
There are many historical fiction books about slaves after the American Revolution, but Chains gives the reader a fascinating look into what life might have been like for a young slave at the birth of the nation. It’s cruelly ironic that so many white Americans pursued liberty and freedom from British rule while owning African and African American people as slaves. Isabel, confused about who to trust and deeply loyal to her young, fragile sister, resists getting involved in the revolution, though other slaves fight on both sides for their freedom. Isabel is a strong character who illuminates how, in war and politics, things are not as simple or clear-cut as “good” versus “bad.” This is an amazing story, and I can’t wait to read the second novel, Forge, in this trilogy.