Three Links of Chain by Dennis Maley
ARC, Paperback, 250 pages
July 7, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Received a copy from the publisher for review
Blanche thinks he has it good. He has risen above the field hands to a position helping run a printing press. He's well fed, never physically mistreated, and he has taught himself to read, though he keeps the illicit skill a secret. Most importantly, he has been promised a chance at emancipation. Then, in a single bloody morning, his world is overturned, his master lies dead, and the widow has no intention of following through with her husband's promise to free Blanche.
Blanche would never have considered running away from his old life, but faced with the prospect of being sold as a laborer or worse, he forges his free papers and flees north, a fugitive, to create his own future. Only a few steps ahead of the slave catchers, he travels hundreds of miles across the violent backdrop of “bleeding Kansas” in the 1850s, a land torn by apart by two very different visions of humanity.
This richly researched work of fiction weaves actual historical characters and institutions into the gripping story of a young man born into slavery but resolute in his quest for freedom.
Although American history is my favorite location/period to read, the time surrounding the Civil War has never been one of particular interest to me. I was interested in Three Links of Chain because I wanted to see how an issue as heavy and dark as slavery and the Underground Railroad would be handled in a novel aimed at a young adult audience. And overall, I was rather impressed with this book.
One of the aspects that caught and held my attention was that despite the short length of 250 pages, it had the feel of a much longer epic journey. I will compare it in many ways to the travails that Odysseus faces in the Odyssey. Every time Blanche escapes one hardship he lands square in the middle of another, even worse, situation. He has to keep persevering in an attempt to attain his ultimate goal. At many times he questions if he is taking the right action or if he should turn back to some easier end point. I think that the epic adventure quality will be quite successful with younger readers as they get caught up in Blanche’s journey.
The history of the time period (Underground Railroad, Bleeding Kansas, life of slaves on the western frontier) was well integrated into the narrative. The Underground Railroad portion of the story highlights how dangerous it was, whereas I think a lot of novels make it feel a little more glamorous. There was the dangers of trying to walk that line between questioning and trusting the folklore, signs, and people whose hands they were putting their lives. That balance was well achieved as Blanch moved forward; he grew from complete naiveté to someone with a little more experience under his belt. In the early chapters there is the juxtaposition of how Blanche holds himself above those of the field hands because he knows how to read and then how little he really understands about the workings of the greater world.
There was only one place the fell a little flat for me and that was the opening chapter. This was a little unfortunate because it almost made me put it down. The first chapter is set in and around an outhouse. And while I have no issues with that per se, and it was an interesting gimmick, it felt very weird to me. It was more like you shouldn’t be there and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the feel the author was going for because you were very distinctly supposed to be there. It just felt out of place and it pulled me out of the narrative. If the chapter had been a little further into the narrative, I don’t think I would have had as much issue with it, but as an introduction I found it awkward. However, it might grab the attention of young adults better than adults, I don’t know.
If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
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