A fledgling abolitionist, Mary Willis turns her family’s farm into a stop on the Underground Railroad, but the arrival of Joe Bell endangers everything she holds dear.
Joe is on the run from a plantation in Walnut Grove, West Virginia. His master is a temperate man, letting Joe keep some of the money he earns doing expert work at other people's sawmills, and gentle with Joe’s younger sister, Alaura. But Joshua Bell’s son, Yates, is a hotheaded, jealous, dissipated man eager to take control of his father’s estate. Desperate for money, Yates attacks Joe, stealing the money he had saved to buy Alaura’s freedom. Joe flees, moving along the stations of the Underground Railroad, until a harrowing encounter with a bounty hunter leaves him with a vicious dog bite and a mortal enemy: Karl Wilhelm. He ends up in Mary’s barn, starving and broken. The dog bite forces the local doctor, a sympathetic Quaker, to amputate his leg, and Joe must stay with the Willises as he recuperates, distraught over Alaura’s fate and doubting that he’ll ever make it to Canada. Meanwhile, Yates has sold off Alaura. Leander, Mary’s brother, is sent to Buffalo to advance their father’s lumber business, but he falls into the clutches of Isabel, a wealthy widow, who turns his head, corrupts his morals, and drives him headlong into opium addiction. His return home for financial help tragically coincides with Mary’s plan to secrete Joe to the next station and Wilhelm’s arrival with a marshal ready to arrest Joe and his accomplices. Shots are fired, tragedy strikes, and fates are irrevocably altered. Wang’s debut novel ricochets powerfully from blood-soaked barns to battlefields, from domestic tribulations to political espionage. As war erupts, Wang carefully sketches a series of sacrifices and betrayals, leading Mary and Joe to love and Leander to seek redemption.
A vivid, compelling portrayal of the heartbreaking price exacted for freedom.