Slave: Escaping the Chains of Freedom is Jacqueline Malcolm’s first novel in her new trilogy, which boldly explores the harsh realities of slavery in Revolutionary America and examines the lives of those affected by its injustice. Malcolm has given the series a forceful and passionate beginning with its opening novel. Her ability for storytelling grabs hold of her reader and captures them relentlessly as she weaves comfortably through the dramatic themes of hope, endurance, faith, and man’s fight for the greatest, most elusive prize: freedom. Hezekiah is a character born of stark drama and bursting with energy as his narrative offers both personal reflection and suspense; his naivety is at some points palpable, and the reader can begin to see the threads of misfortune weaving together while Hezekiah continues in his plight. It’s always a daring choice to let the reader in on the realities of a story before the hero is aware, but in Malcolm’s case the plot works out well. I found myself mourning Hezekiah’s decisions without being entirely sure that hope was really lost; enough of the story was kept yet beyond my prediction that the novel kept me in rapt attention throughout. Hezekiah is a strong character, one I rooted for greatly, but he’s also very flawed, and perhaps this encourages his endearment to the reader. While he sees the injustice of slavery that others have yet to understand, he himself is blind to the power and worth of women: his emotions often battle with his wife Betsy, at once putting her and his love for her above all else before mentally pushing her opinions aside, determined that a woman could not understand business, could not understand the realities of freedom. His misguided ideas are to be expected in the era, and as a reader I didn’t fault him. His lessons are difficult ones to learn, but his love for his family and his determination to make them free will guide him over all obstacles; in that, Malcolm has created a fantastic character that reflects both the realities of the 18th century and the progression still to come.
I was swept up in the story, relishing in the way it would ease into a comfortable pace before whisking away on new revelations. It was always a step ahead of me, and the ending left me breathless in the way that great reading experiences often do. Every character, from the kind-hearted Betsy to James’s deceitful wife Gloria, jumped off the pages and pulled me into their world. Malcolm’s vivid portrayal of Revolutionary America is beautifully crafted, her language poetic, and her history wonderfully researched. Slave: Escaping the Chains of Freedom is a novel that offers not just an engaging story, but a chance to open our minds to past injustices and explore the reasons for man’s pursuit of them. The vision of the book and its author is a powerful one, and the result is a book that will compel its readers throughout before leaving them hungry for more.