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Saturday, August 15, 2015

THREE LINKS of a CHAIN: A NOVEL by Dennis Maley

Published on July 7, 2015 by Jubilo

In many ways, the fight over whether Kansas would be a slave state or a free state was the first fighting of the Civil War. 

In a shortsighted move, the Congress of the United States decided to let the Kansas Territory decide for itself if it wanted to be a slave or a free state. It was shortsighted because it put off a festering political problem and let it be decided in a far away territory with little thought to what would happen in that territory. Immediately, this became a real-life struggle, the physical embodiment of the arguments taking place across the country about slavery and its future. Slave states rightly determined that they needed to bring Kansas in as a slave state and they immediately sent financial backing to support pro-slavery settlers and pro-slavery men from neighboring Missouri who would cross the border and illegally vote in the election.

Abolitionists sent settlers, financial aid and weapons to counter. Soon enough, neighbor was fighting neighbor (John Brown of the infamous Harper's Ferry raid got his start here by killing a number of his pro-slavery neighbors with broadswords) and a series of tainted elections were held. Multiple governments claimed to be in charge of the state, multiple federal investigations resulted in nothing but contradictory conclusions, depending on the political affiliations of the investigators. 

This book starts in Missouri, very close to the border with Kansas. Blanche is a slave working for the local newspaper owner. The town is in an uproar due to its proximity to Kansas. Men are planning to illegally vote one side or another, arms are being sent across the border and ugly fights and arguments are breaking out everywhere.

A slave auction
Blanche is not happy being a slave but figures that he has got things all figured out and will eventually be free due to his careful manipulation of the slave system. He can read, is free to work on the side for extra cash and is confident that he is superior to any field hand slave.

Blanche's plan is simple - he will work for the cash to pay for his freedom or he will simply outlive his master who has promised him that he placed instructions in his will to free him when he dies. But, when his master dies during a fight Blanche finds out that his master may not have done as he promised. When he breaks into his master's widow's house to look for a copy of the will he discovers that she has burned it and she intends to keep him as a slave forever.

Blanche runs at the first good opportunity and heads straight into chaos of Bleeding Kansas followed by slave catchers and encouraged by members of the Underground Railroad. Maybe he can make it if he can determine who is really a friend, who is really a foe.

This is a solid piece of historical fiction. Blanche and most of the characters are composites based on real people. The author's research shows and he is able to give a real feel for the chaos of the times and the precarious life of a slave. The descriptions of Blanche's flight and of the people he meets in Kansas are well done. The only real problem that I had with the book is that Blanche has so many of these interesting episodes and brushes with danger and the same slave catcher over and over again that this middle-aged reader began to doubt that any one person could have so many close calls and still have any hope of escaping. But, I am considerably older than the intended audience and I doubt kids would think twice about it. I took off a star because of it, though.

I imagine that the author found so many great tales of close calls involving runaway slaves while doing his research that he could not bear to cut any of them so he worked them all into Blanche's escape story. I can certainly understand that sentiment. 

As a history teacher, I would certainly recommend this book as a great supplement in a history class. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Three Links of Chain

Note: I was sent an advance review copy of this book at no charge so that I could write an honest review.

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