Gaele's Reviews > Touched with Fire

Touched with Fire by Christopher Datta
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviewed

It isn’t often that I know, going into writing a review, that I will not be able to convince enough people that this is a must-read: for the writing, the history and the captivating characters that will be found within. Christopher Datta has used extensive research and historical facts to present a story that seamlessly mixes fact and fiction to reveal a life that should be a household name, but was sadly lost in obscurity.

Ellen Craft was born a slave, the product of a rape of her mother by the master, as was her mother. Vernacular of the time most pleasantly referred to her as a quadroon, her light skin combined with the dubious benefit of position as slave to her half-sister kept her alienated from the others in the slave community, her skin and her speech had them suspicious of her ‘uppity ways’.

All of that changes when William, slave to a man of substance and a well-known and regarded cabinet maker sets his sights on her. Saving her from certain attack, twice, she opens up to William and shares her fears, hatreds and desires. When they marry and are allowed to quarter in her half-sister’s new home with her husband, their plan is hatched.

Donning the dress and manners of a man, Ellen presents herself as a southern gentlemen farmer with her dedicated slave Billy. Through several nerve-wracking encounters, they travel without discovery to Baltimore, where the lack of papers and Ellen and Willam’s inability to write or read forces a separation. With the aid of a cousin of her former master, Ellen is able to journey on to the free state of Pennsylvania and starts her new life as she plans to retrieve her husband.

The story is cleverly working on two levels: first is the determination that Ellen shows in returning to the Macon Georgia plantation to retrieve her husband. For six years she has masqueraded as a man, always seeking to protect her secrets and focused only on the defeat of the rebel army. Secondly are the details of battle from a first-person view: the sights, sounds, smells and exhilaration juxtaposed against the tedium of waiting or the dangers faced in the camp hospitals, hunger and the sniping between friends and companions.

Told in a series of ‘five sections, each carries a specific tone and setting that build the characters and scenes with smooth progression and allow them to grow and develop as each new challenge appears. The sections also give a sort of timeline progression to the story, giving readers a moment to breathe and relax from the tension that underlies most of the text. This is a gripping read, with several chances to immerse yourself in Ellen’s emotional journey and struggles with her own definition of herself: is she woman, has she adopted too many of the man’s characteristics, will she be found out, can she ever learn to trust in anyone, will she and William ever find one another. It was difficult to distinguish between fiction and fact, and some clever twisting of the timeline and events gave Datta the perfect opportunity to immerse readers into a story from a perspective that is new and fresh. There is a particular dryness to historical fact and history classes, yet the transformation of adding a perspective and character that is intriguing and interesting and giving them the task of telling the story makes it all come alive in ways that only seem possible in fiction. You cared for and hurt with Ellen in her journey, and often were confused by her behavior and selfish disregard for those who only sought to befriend her as a comrade in arms. What you will never be is bored or confused: angry, frustrated, sad and even wanting to see if her wishes come true, Ellen Craft will demand you see her, hear her and feel for and with her on this journey.

I received an eBook copy via Novel Publicity for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 26, 2014 – Shelved
April 26, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
April 26, 2014 – Finished Reading

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