Book Review: Chariot on the Mountain

Author: Jack Ford
Published: July 31, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I seriously struggle with historical fiction if I think the story is “just” a novel from a different era – for a historical fiction novel to really strike me I need to know that it’s based on a true story. So I wanted to start off this review by saying this book is based on a true story and it is an extraordinary story that you will not find anywhere else. Ford, the author, discovered this story by reading a historical plaque on a courthouse in Virginia, and went through years of research to put this story together. Point being: If it weren’t for him this story would have gone untold. Luckily, Ford is also a fantastic writer so this book is full of complex narratives that make it a full 5 star read for me.

Chariot on the Mountain tells the story of Kitty’s journey to freedom. Kitty is a slave living on a plantation in Virginia, where she had always been given preferential treatment as she was the illegitimate child of the plantation owner. But when the owner passes away, Kitty knows her future will be uncertain if she stays put. The road to freedom is bumpy road to say the least, and before anything can be decided Kitty will travel the underground railroad, return to Virginia, and become to first black woman to sue a white man.

This book deals with the topic of slavery, and let’s just be honest, there’s no gray area with slavery – we all know slavery is bad. So I was really pleased with how effective the author was at surprising me with a) how bad it was and b) how commonplace it was. There was a lot of talk about how slavery was part of the lifestyle and how the northerners just didn’t understand their lifestyle, along with the realization of how hard it would be to abolish slavery since it’s so important for the economy. (Just think about how hard it is to outlaw something like guns today! There would have been so many fierce opponents of slavery who would have lobbied hard against the abolishionists.)

The dialog in this book also added to emotional impact for me. Coming primarily from the villain of the story, there were lines such as “they’re just slaves, it’s not as if they’re humans with emotions.” At first reading this, my reaction was to feel like the writing wasn’t very nuanced, too blunt and overstated and surely noone actually thought that, right? But the more this line stuck with me, the more I’ve come to appreciate the writing style. It really drove home the point of what it would be like to be in a country where you didn’t have a single human right. Perhaps not to the same extent, or maybe so depending on your political beliefs, but this didn’t seem too far off how I expect immigrants are being treated at the border today. One thing I worried about with this book, was that it was too far in the past for me to relate to, but emotions like this, unfortunately, made this book all too relevant in this crazy times.

Beyond knowing that the story was based on true events, I also enjoyed knowing that Ford was a lawyer. I worried that the court scenes would be written in a style bordering on cheesy, but I ended up enjoying the complexities of the law that he brought in to the story, which no doubt came from his experience in the court room.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and am so happy that NetGalley pointed it out to me as a book I might like! I flew through it in a couple of days and always looked forward to picking it up again. It’s out on shelves now so I highly reccomend you check this one out!

[Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the free copy of the book. All opinions are my own]