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The Hidden Light of Northern Fires

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  713 ratings  ·  202 reviews
A novel rooted in the remarkable, but little-known, true history of the only secessionist town north of the Mason Dixon Line.

When escaped slave, Joe Bell, collapses in her father’s barn, Mary Willis must ward off Confederate guerillas and spies, Joe’s vengeful owner, and even her own brother to help the handsome fugitive cross to freedom.

Mary has always been an outcast, an
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 29th 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  713 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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Angela M

I love learning the seed of a story, the spark, the idea, the one thing that moves an author to write a story. Sometimes I come across this in an author interview but I like it best when it is told upfront at the beginning of the book, as it was in this case. That the author lived in the house where Mary Willis lived and that he felt he had to tell her story really drew me in . Even though, this is a fictionalized interpretation, I really appreciate that it is based on a real woman, a fervent ab
CIVIL WAR - 1861-1865

$1000 REWARD. Joe Bell is a fugitive slave on the run....he didn't want to run....he didn't want to leave sister Alaura behind at Walnut Grove Plantation....but he had no choice....and Yates Bell wants him DEAD!

Mary Willis is a 23 year old university-educated strong-willed spinster who is bored with farm life....AND the local boys in Town Line, New York, but she soon finds purpose to her daily routine....a secret and dangerous new endeavor....helping runaway slaves. (no spoi

”’How did he become president when so few people voted for him? Did he cheat? Did he steal the election? I don’t know, but the question must be asked.’ He stood in front of a farmer missing his front teeth. ‘What do you think, Klaus?’ The farmer looked around, surprised to be addressed. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘We might never know,’ the preacher said. ‘I do not believe he is our real president. He is not my president. Is he yours?’”

This story begins around the time of the hanging of abolitionist John
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to LaDonna by: Goodreads Giveaway-June 2017
A truly great read...

Why can’t 4.5 be an option?

Daren Wang truly wowed me with his debut novel, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires . From the setting to the characters to the plot, I was mesmerized from the start. Before Daren Wang, I had never heard of Town Line, NY-- the only town north of the Mason Dixon Line to secede from the Union, during the Civil War. (It didn’t rejoin until 1946!) Enough of the history lesson…

“None have freedom until all do,” [Nathan Willis] said.

Yes, we are introd
Melissa Crytzer Fry
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’m always excited when a new chapter of seemingly well-known history can be brought to light. And in this book, I was, indeed, surprised to learn about a town in New York, during the Civil War, that was sympathetic to Confederates and quite vocal about being anti-Union. I also had no clue that Confederate deserters flocked to Canada – an irony considering that they were headed to the same destination as slaves.

I confess that I also am always enthusiastic to learn of the genesis of certain books
Kasa Cotugno
Amazing that this is a debut novel, but then Daren Wang, the author, has been around books and authors his entire life, chairing a prestigious writer's festival in Decatur Georgia, so he is no dilettante when it comes to the craft. Add to that a personal connection to his material. When as a boy he moved with his family to a town near Buffalo, New York, and became fascinated with the contents of the barn that became their home. Most notably, books, and a handwritten journal "in a lady's hand." A ...more
Karen Rush
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent debut of historical fiction. Told from multiple perspectives, the story seemed authentic; I could feel the tension of time and place. Whenever runaway slave Joe Bell and activist Mary Willis were actively in the story, I was especially captivated. They were brave, loyal, smart and likable. I was also impressed by the depiction of other characters as well, even the unlikeable ones like Yates and Leander, their human flaws and transformations well-done. A thought-challenging and sober ...more
Karen Kay
I received this ARC from in exchange for a review.

School educated Mary Willis has always been an outcast, an outspoken abolitionist woman in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line bearable.

The story is told from multiple perspectives and gave a good view of people and the political opinions of the time. I felt the story dragged in some places but overall a good read.

3.5☆ rounded up to 4☆
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first thing you'll probably want to know about The Hidden Lifght of Northern Fires is what makes it different enough to read another Civil War saga. One answer is how well it's written another is how real and heart warming the chraracters are. Of course the here's lots of partisanship but it's not the focus of the book, even the bad guys are nuanced and some change over the course of the book, almost all of them grow...for better or worse. There are touching love stories especially the main ...more
Jenny GB
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaway
I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. Thank you!

Wang's novel tells the fictionalized story of a town near the U.S./Canada border in New York that actually succeeded from the Union and didn't officially rejoin the U.S. until 1946. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Mary, the daughter of a wealthy farmer who helped found the town. Mary has been educated and strongly supports the abolitionist cause, which is an unpopular stance in her hometown. Mary involves
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, Darren Wang’s creative reimagining of the true story of a small northern town that voted to secede with the south -- as experienced by a white abolitionist woman and a fugitive slave -- is a page turning yarn and is worth recommending for that reason alone. But beyond being a great story, I was delighted to have my mind opened to the radical possibilities of historical fiction to illuminate and explore perspectives outside of the dominant narratives – somethin ...more
Haris Mohammad
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Hidden Light of Northern Fires is a baroque and vibrant read.A cool and fresh angle on a brand-new branch of the Civil War. The cast of characters are absolutely human, admirably assorted, and the anecdotal articulation is decidedly apprehensible, in aciculate adversity with the bersek blood-soaked aberration of that aphotic bit in annals of American history.
This book was so fascinating! I found this to be a highly readable and eye-opening account of the unsung roles that women played during the Civil War. While men fought at the front, women were making their own sacrifices and contributions. I couldn't wait to keep reading to find out what happened next and I learned so much! I want to read other Civil War books so I can learn more information about this fascinating time period in American history. This is a great book for any Civil War fan and I ...more
Chaya Nebel
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a fairly readable personal historical story that starts on the cusp of the Civil War, in a small New York town with homes that served as stops on the Underground Railroad, and whose various characters illustrate the complexity and confusion about the issue of slavery and more broadly the situations and questions of the black citizens of the US at this time.

The protagonist of the story, Mary, is the main catalyst here in the tale of a runaway slave, Joe Bell, whom she takes care of and gr
Brenda A
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shelf-awareness
This one is hard to rate. On the surface I love it--it's in the civil war era which is always fascinating and not nearly as popular in literature. It has romance and violence and cowards and stout-hearted men and women. It has everything it needs to be a smash hit, and really it was.

I just don't love it. I can't tell you why, or give reasons. It boils down to this: I did not connect with the characters so I was always a bit removed from their troubles and woes.

Mary was probably my favorite char
Patti Hacht
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an EXCELLENT book! If you want a Civil War book like no other, choose this.

Mary Willis is a young girl returning home to Town Line, NY from college, looking to make a difference in the world. She gets involved with the Underground Railroad. The Willis farm is the last stop before Canada.

The Bell family from Harper's Ferry, W. Virginia are dedicated to the continuation of slavery, and they want their runaway slave Joe Bell back. Joe has found himself hiding out on the Willis farm. . . Son Ya
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway, and I'm sure glad I did!

What's great about this book is that not only do you get to know some amazing fictional characters and experience their interwoven stories, but you also learn some fascinating, and rarely discussed, non-fictional aspects of the Civil War. I had never read anything that discussed the Confederacy's plots and intrigues in the North--specifically in Buffalo, New York, across the border in Canada, and around Lake Erie. I knew nothing
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a well done historical fiction novel. The setting is in New York State during the Civil War. I had never heard that a town near Buffalo had seceded from the Union. In fact, I believe it never rejoined the US until Truman's tenure as President.

The characters are diverse, complex, and have interesting tales. War seems to have been portrayed realistically.

I was fortunate to read an advance copy - it will be released later this summer. I do hope that the final copy will be edited
Sharon Huether
I won this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thank you Good reads for sending this wonderful book.
An outspoken abolitionist Mary Yates works hard to find freedom during the Civil War. Their small hamlet had seceded from the Union.
Mary risked her life, but stayed on the farm to help although she wanted her freedom too.
Mary's life takes on new meaning after she finds a buyer for her farm.

I was impressed with the prologue, where the author was inspired for this book by what he found in his own f
Chuck Reece
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Honest to God, I think this book is a masterpiece. It works almost like an inside-out version of "Gone With the Wind," telling the story of the Civil War from a far different perspective that Southerners are accustomed to. Just a stunning debut novel.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bonnye Reed
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GNab I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Daren Wang, and St. Martin's Press - Thomas Dunn Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.

This is an excellent Civil War historical novel, told from a very unique viewpoint. Daren Wang tells his story from the perspective of a farmer's daughter from Town Line in upstate New York, a slave fleeing his home and family near Harper's Ferry, and an escaped boy from the orphan
Judith A Willis
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a must Read set up your Drinks a d snacks ,because you won't want to put it down.
If you love history , and are a civil War buff ,
This is for you ,it is a bit of a twist as it is about
A real person Mary Willis ,and her efforts to help .Don't miss this .
Meag McKeron
Aug 29, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a well-written Civil War epic featuring characters from all walks of life (slaves, runaways, plantation owners Confederate sympathizers, Union soldiers, abolitionists - just to name a few). While I enjoyed the writing itself, I found the plot to be a little overdone - there was just way too much going on, and because of that, I felt the opportunity to explore some of the main characters in-depth was lost. The bond between Joe and his sister Alaura started strong but had fizzled out by t ...more
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
A haunting novel of the Civil War, but not of the major battles and the troops. No, this is the story of Southern plantation owners and a family working to keep their farm and their lumber mill afloat near Buffalo,New York. A runaway slave seeks freedom in the North. A favored son fails to live up to his father's expectations. Confederate soldiers seek to regroup in Canada. Deaths abound in the private sector as well as on the battlefields.

A great DEBUT novel! I read this EARC courtesy of Thos
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book about a town outside Buffalo, New York, that seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, the love story of Joe Bell and abolitionist Mary Willis, and the story of just how the different views of this time split towns and families apart.

Joe Bell escapes from the plantation he worked on, fought across bitterly cold rivers to get to freedom, only to have it almost taken so close to his hiding place to get to freedom in Canada. Mary Willis is an outcast in
Karen Parisot
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A recent college graduate, twenty-three years old and considered a spinster, Mary Willis returns to her family home in the hamlet of Town Line, New York. Mary is a passionate abolitionist and is secretly helping escaped slaves as they make their way to the safety of Canada. One day she finds a seriously injured escapee collapsed on the floor of the barn. That’s when her life and the lives of those around her are changed forever.
Mary is just one of lots of great characters. The plot is predictab
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really wanted to win this book on Goodreads and so glad I did because it was a great historical fiction. Thank you Goodreads! The heart of this book is based on a true story, perhaps that is why the main characters feel so real. The base of the story is about the only town North of the Mason Dixon Line to secede from the Union.What I enjoyed the most about this work is the relationships between the main characters of the story and their struggles. There are personal problems and many questions ...more
Bridgett Brown
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.
This story that takes place just before, during and immediately after the Civil War. The main family of this novel is the Willis family father: Nathan, daughter: Mary and son: Leander. The family lives on a farm near Town Line, NY. Mary is an abolitionist, and at the beginning of the book she nurses a runaway slave named Joe. Friends will betray friends, loyalties are questioned over and over, A country and it's people divided over what is right and what i
Julie Coulter
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
After hearing the author speak at local Bookmarks Festival, I looked forward to reading this book. The author expertly weaves civil war history with fictional characters into a beautiful tapestry and his philosophy leads to thoughtful consideration of how we treat each other today. Phrasing, language, and plot all contribute to a very good read. I immediately started reading it a second time, hoping to see more of the light.
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Daren Wang is the founding Executive Director of AJC Decatur Book Festival, now in its twelfth year.
As a public radio producer, he produced and or hosted several series including The Spoken Word, Porches: The South and Her Writers, Circle of Friends, Between the Lines, ArtVoice, and Atlanta Forum. His writing has appeared in Paste Magazine, Five Points Magazine, the Atlanta Journal Constitution,