Forge

Written by Laurie Halse Anderson
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Ella McNulty (aged 15)

(1)

1777. America is fighting for independence from Britain. Curzon, a slave, has managed to escape from his British master and is on the run. He gets caught up in a skirmish between British and American soldiers and saves the life of Eben, a young soldier in the newly-raised 16th Massachusetts Regiment. Soon, he is fighting with Eben’s regiment and involved in a war which he is only half-convinced is his war; there’s no guarantee that the Americans will grant him his freedom any more than the British did.

The winter of 1778-79 is bitterly cold, and the regiment is poorly equipped and badly-organized. Curzon must cope with not only the prejudice of some of his fellow soldiers, but also cold, hunger and lack of shelter. How can he ever gain his freedom when he’s freezing and half-starved?

Forge follows on from Laurie Halse Anderson’s award winning Chains, but it’s a standalone book; the necessary back story information is skilfully woven into the Prelude. I had no difficulty in understanding what was going on. The author’s research is thorough without being intrusive, and the story illuminates a little-known aspect of the War of Independence, that of the suffering of ordinary soldiers from the ineptitude of the planning and the food shortages.

Having said that, I read it perfectly happily without being particularly involved. Objectively, I sympathized with Curzon’s position, but somehow I wasn’t emotionally engaged. This may have been because this is a first-person narrative and Curzon is understandably wary of confiding too much to his fellow, white, soldiers. He has to be slightly detached – which affects the reader. Things improve once he meets up with his fellow slave and escapee, Isabel, mainly because we become involved with the dynamic of their relationship and the horrors of Isabel’s experiences of slavery.

(2)

I quite liked this book. I thought its historical context was interesting. The American Revolution is not a historical period I knew much about apart from tea being thrown overboard, so it was interesting to have an insight into the period. I liked the two main characters Curzon and Isabel; the way their relationship developed through the plot was very moving. I specially found that I identified with Isabel since she was a brave and funny character. I thought the action was described well and the fight scenes were gripping. I liked the texts at the beginnings of chapters, for example, the historical précis – talking about laws to do with slavery and descriptions of historical events involving slavery. I thought this was an interesting idea, and well-executed. The book fell down because sometimes I found the plot was a bit complicated and slow-moving so I lost interest.