Virginia is a slave in the house of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley; she was brought north from the state of Virginia to serve them at the White House in the month preceding the British invasion of Washington. While there she helps transport numerous runaway slaves to safety, inadvertently betrays 12 of them, and witnesses the British sacking of the city. This backstairs view of a slice of history is riveting for its period detail; Dolley Madison's extravagant parties, the trader slaves being marched past the White House, and the burning of the city are seen through the eyes of this bright and courageous 12-year-old who is both witness to and part of history. The characters--and their actions and ethics--are complex, especially Rosetta Bell, a slave who betrays her own people out of bitterness over the loss of her daughter and her own longing for freedom, and Dolley, who was brought up to believe slavery was wrong, yet keeps slaves out of political expediency. A fine, multilayered novel.