As part of my degree, I learned about the American War of Independence only as part of a larger module on British and European colonial history (so 1492 to 1975). As a standalone subject it didn’t really feature either at university or at school. So in this respect, Chains was interesting. Before reading this, I’d never been able to figure out why Britain was so keen to keep America as a colony or why America was so desperate to break away. After all, the two factions were thousands of miles apart in a time when communication was immensely difficult - couldn’t they have just, you know, kept out of each others’ way? Chains talked about the reasons behind the rebellion and made me interested to read more.
Another interesting historical aspect was the description of New York in the eighteenth century - I actually found it fascinating to read about Broadway and Wall Street being little residential areas.
Isabel was a nice enough character. I liked that although she was faced with pretty much the suckiest situation a human being could experience, she retained firstly her humanity and secondly her spirit. She never gave up and never stopped caring and although she initially tries to keep her head down and not get involved with the rebels she comes to realise that their struggle has many parallels with her own and decides to help them out.
As for the other characters, in true Hollywood style, all the Brits and British sympathisers in this book are baddies. But that’s okay, we’re kind of used to being the bad guys now in the same way that a character with a German accent always ends up being a sociopath with weird sexual proclivities and French-accented characters are garrulous womanisers. I also found it ironic (and by ironic, I mean hypocritical) that the American rebels were fighting desperately for their independence whilst keeping twenty per cent of their population in forced servitude.
The plot itself was a bit ho-hum for me. Mostly it plodded along with brief bursts of action and it didn’t really keep my attention very well. The spy thing could have been really thrilling, but it wasn’t. Her friendship with Curzon could have been really well-developed, but it wasn’t. The account of her life as a slave could have shown how horrific a slave’s life really was, but it didn’t.
So while this was quite a good book it wasn’t groundbreaking or thrilling enough for me. A much better book is Samuel Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, which has the added horror factor of being a true story.
And one last thing America: the Brits aren’t complete bad guys. After all, we abolished slavery thirty-two (32) years before you did.