Benjamin Thomas's Reviews > Touched with Fire

Touched with Fire by Christopher Datta
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, civil-war, indie-authors

Boy this is one of the hardest ratings I’ve ever had to decide upon for a book review. Part of me wants to award 4 stars and part of me wants to penalize it with a single star.

Allow me to explain.

This book is presented as an historical novel “inspired by the true story of Ellen Craft” as it says right there on the cover. Ellen Craft, for those that don’t know, has a fantastic real life story: Ellen and William Craft were slaves from Macon, Georgia who escaped to the North in December 1848 by traveling openly by train and steamboat, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. She posed as a white male planter and he as her personal servant. Their daring escape was widely publicized, making them among the most famous of fugitive slaves. Unfortunately, today, her story has largely been forgotten; I know I, for one, had never heard it. It is a remarkable story and ripe for a nice historical fiction adaptation.

Christopher Datta, the author of this book, is clearly passionate about his subject matter. He has crafted a nice story and although there are a few clumsy sequences and the dialogue grated on me from time to time, this reads very well. He develops his characters nicely and his knowledge of the time period makes for an easy confidence in his prose. A solid four-star read.

But then I read the author’s afterward and found out that only the first 25 percent or so of the novel is based on Ellen Craft’s life and adventures. The rest is pure fiction as the author takes his main character on an incredible and dangerous path that remains good reading…just with no basis in actual history. It’s completely made up (although based on other historical people). It made me wonder if anything involving the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga that took up most of the book was real or fantasy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to read alternate history novels but I always know going into them that that is what I am plunging in to. I have always felt that the bond between the author and the reader is sacred. The trust that one builds with the other is paramount and after finding out the real story of Ellen Craft…well, I felt hoodwinked. That sacred trust had been broken. It would be one thing to write a story where Abraham Lincoln becomes a vampire slayer or time travels to meet Leonardo da Vinci. We all know the real story of Lincoln so there is no expectation that what we are reading is pure fiction. But to take a relatively unknown historical figure and take them on a far different path…well that’s pulling the wool over my eyes.

It’s a real shame because Christopher Datta can write. I will say that his afterward does make mention of his own conflict in making the decision he did. I truly wish that message had been imparted up front so I could enjoy the novel for what it is.

So for my rating, I am choosing to take the high road and base it on the actual novel, the writing, the characters, etc. My decision comes down to a single word on the cover: “Inspired”. It does not say “based on the true story…” or “biography of…” but rather “inspired by the true story”. So be it. I have book two of the trilogy and will absolutely read it. I may question just what parts are actual history and what parts are made up, but I will read it.
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Reading Progress

June 6, 2015 – Started Reading
June 6, 2015 – Shelved
June 9, 2015 – Finished Reading

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