Forge picks up immediately where Chains left off, although the point of view has changed from Isabel to Curzon. Then it leaps ahead a few months. Isabel and Curzon have parted ways on less than ideal terms because he wouldn’t go to South Carolina with her to search for Ruth.
Curzon ends up in the Colonial army again, spending a difficult winter at Valley Forge. He’s eventually found by Bellingham, his previous owner, who goes back on his promise to free Curzon if he enlisted in his place. There he finds Isabel as well—she was recaptured, and Bellingham bought her when he recognized the brand on her face. To Bellingham, this is a sort of kindness in return for the spying she provided in New York City.
Once they’re on speaking terms again, Isabel and Curzon start figuring out how to escape from Bellingham.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Curzon helps Eben, a young Colonial soldier, kill a British soldier. It’s a bit graphic, and we learn that the British soldier left behind a family which makes him more sympathetic than just a nameless enemy. Both Curzon and Eben get physically ill—death is hard, even when it’s necessary to save your own life.
Eben’s uncle dies after a severe ankle injury—stress and blood loss are just too much. He was a good man. It’s a hard loss.
The conditions at Valley Forge are horrific and portrayed in detail. Death is a constant fact of life.
Prejudice and Slavery
Many people have trouble accepting Curzon as an equal, even though he’s a soldier like they are. He’s beaten severely by fellow soldiers and his boots are stolen. However, he’s also treated with more respect by some than he’s used to.
Curzon thinks he’s free because his former owner promised to free him if he served in the army in his place. But then Bellingham comes to Valley Forge and he claims Curzon again as a slave. He explains that he meant to free Curzon, but things are kind of tough for him right now. Maybe later. Bellingham also owns Isabel, and after she tried to run away a few times, he had a blacksmith put an iron collar around her neck. When she leaves the house, bells are attached to it. Bellingham makes sure that Curzon and Isabel are clothed and fed, which is more than the soldiers have, so to outsiders it seems like he’s a kind owner. But he tries to control Curzon by threatening Isabel. He touches Isabel in ways that are unwelcome.
Bellingham announces casually at dinner that he’s sold Isabel to someone as a wedding gift for his wife—this is the first Isabel or Curzon has heard of this. They decide they need to escape, but Bellingham threatens them with a gun and then smacks Curzon so hard his head spins. Isabel hits Bellingham with a shovel and knocks him out. They unlock Isabel’s collar, put it on Bellingham, then throw the key in the river.
Eben tries to defend slavery as God’s will and to say that enslaved people should be content because God wants them in bondage, although eventually he realizes that just doesn’t make sense. Once he comes to that conclusion, he and some of the other soldiers start scheming to help Curzon escape. In the end, they risk much to help Curzon and Isabel escape.
Curzon realizes that he loves Isabel, but he and she tend to argue with each other. He thinks she’s mad at him, and she expects him to yell at her. It takes them a while to figure out their feelings for each other. They share a kiss.
The soldiers have farting contests, and it’s during one of these that the white soldiers start to accept Curzon as one of them. Words like piss, fart, puke, negar, and injun are common.
Like Chains, this is sometimes a hard read. But it’s a compelling story, and if you liked Chains, you really ought to check this one out as well. I’m eager to see how the story ends in Ashes, available now for preorder, to be released on October 4, 2016.
Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published in 2010 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Second book in the Seeds of America series
Read my personal copy