The Hidden Light of Northern Fires

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 29 Aug 2017

Member Reviews

I absolutely loved this book. I really enjoy reading historical novels based on a true event or person. Daren Wang did an excellent job of weaving fact with fiction. The story was told well through believable characters and events.  I highly recommend this book as a must read.
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Having grown up in Alden, NY, I was fascinated to learn of my small town and area’s history — that I was never taught in school. This should be a must read for WNY education.
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I am not generally a fan of American historical fiction...I just don't care that much about reading about a shitstorm that is American history. But the synopsis was really interesting. And having an escaped slave and a woman as main character in the time the book is set in? Interesting! 

It is happening during the Civil War and honestly, I don't know that much about it, mostly what I learnt from books I've read. 

All in all, this was a good book, and I enjoyed it!
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I’ve just been drawn to historical fiction, & this was a true learning experience. If Civil War History had been taught using this, fiction based on a diary, I might’ve become a history buff. Highly enjoyable, educational, & well-written, Mr. Wang! I’ll read your next books too.
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Daren Wang's engaging novel will impress any fan of historical fiction, as it illustrates the intersectional nature of civil rights, by covering the oppression of both women and black people well!
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Town Line is an obscure place, just outside Buffalo and close the the Canadian border, but as the American Civil War develops Town Line becomes the only Secessionist town north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Mary does not fit in to Town Line, she is the educated daughter of a farmer but has to run the family home whilst her brother Leander runs wild.  She becomes involved in the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves flee to Canada.  When an injured runaway is hidden by Mary, her entire network is imperilled and this act sows the seeds for danger and heartache for all concerned as the war rages far to the south.

The setting of this book is really interesting as the plot is a little too messy to be completely believable.  That's not to say that I didn't really love the book but it felt very much at the 'fiction' end of 'historical fiction'!  The horrors of slavery are well-represented and the power of family ties looms large, I particularly liked the desperation of Yates.  Politically there are a lot of good points here and especially the idea that although Southern States were pro-slavery and Northern States less so, that was not a view held by Walland there are shades of grey in all conflicts.
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When you stop to think about the fact that the events in this story are based on historical fiction, it just makes it all the more incredible.
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During the years of the Civil War the small town of Town Line, New York decided to succeed from the Union making it a very unique place to set this novel.  The Willis family, Nathan, Mary and Leander are pillars of the society and even Mary’s ravings on abolition and women’s rights are tolerated.  At the start of the war, though, Mary decides to make her family farm a stop on the Underground Railroad with haunting ramifications for her family and the town.  I think the characters of this book are realistically written and even the really bad guys are multi-faceted.   I do wish that the history of Town Line was explored even further because I finished the novel without a firm grasp on why it succeeded and what happened to it after the war.  Otherwise, this is a really great novel and I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more buzz around it.  I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I received this ARC from netgalley.com in exchange for a review. 

School educated Mary Willis has always been an outcast, an outspoken abolitionist woman in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line bearable. 

The story is told from multiple perspectives and gave a good view of people and the political opinions of the time. I felt the story dragged in some places but overall a good read.

3.5☆ rounded up to 4☆
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It is 1859, and after graduating from college, Mary is an abolitionist. She begins to work with the Underground Railroad and hides a runaway named who fled because of his good master's son. At the same time, the Civil War is raging.

This is a wonderfully rich and complex novel about the anguish of slavery and the tragedies of war. Compelling make this novel so real and believable. There are plenty of subplots and twists that made this a real page turner. I was utterly fascinated with this tale from start to finish! I highly this decadent story to all lovers of historical fiction.
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An excellent debut of historical fiction. Told from multiple perspectives, the story seemed authentic; I could feel the tension of time and place. Whenever runaway slave Joe Bell and activist Mary Willis were actively in the story, I was especially captivated. They were brave, loyal, smart and likable. I was also impressed by the depiction of other characters as well, even the unlikeable ones like Yates and Leander, their human flaws and transformations well-done. A thought-challenging and sobering reminder of the Civil War and why it became a necessary part of history.
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What I liked: I feel as if the author did a lot of research to bring this period of our history to life. There are details about how people lived and how they felt  told from both sides before and during the war. The characters are vivid due to the details of how they  thought and acted. 

One thing that I found  interesting was that the author portrayed two of the most relevant characters: the son of a Southern man and the son of a Northern man as scoundrels. While the one man remained a scoundrel throughout the book, the other was shown to have grown and his viewpoint changed as the story progressed. He was my favorite character; however, I did not particularly like most of the people in this book. The main character, Mary, seemed to be cold, and most of the others had their own agendas, and a lot of them weren’t very nice people. 

What I didn’t like: I am frustrated with how many authors feel they have to use curse words in their writing. I don’t want to read this in every book I pick up. I especially don’t want to see that the author felt it necessary to use ones with God and Jesus. I don’t want to talk like that; I don’t think most of us do, and I can’t help but wonder how this constant exposure affects our speech.  I would enjoy current books much more if they left the cursing out and found a better way to SHOW through the character’s actions when they are irritated, angry, and frustrated rather than just throw in some curse words. 


The book is well written, and if you enjoy historical novels, this might  be a good choice for you if you do not mind the cursing throughout.
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While an interesting take on a little -known aspect of the Civil War, a southern- sympathizing town firmly in the north, the most interesting perspective was that of Mary,  and the perspective of so many others seemed to take away rather than add to the strength of the story.
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If there’s a subgenre of historic fiction that I find difficult to turn down, it’s historic fiction set during the American Civil War. There were so many factors at play with consequences rippling through so many groups of people in so many places and so many ways that I don’t think we’ll ever run out of stories to tell about that period of American history. The sheer size and scope of it also makes it difficult to tackle in a novel and trying to engage with too many angles of it at once can be a mistake. There is so much in Daren Wang’s The Hidden Light of Northern Fires that is done well, but I found the novel as a whole to be underwhelming and I think that this is the culprit—plots with great promise that went underdeveloped because there were simply too many of them.

The town of Town Line in New York is near Buffalo but along the border with Canada. This means that the town is home to many slave hunters who make a living catching escaped slaves when they’re just steps away from freedom. But not everyone in town looks fondly on the practice, least of all Mary Willis whose father essentially founded the town and whose sawmill built most of it as well. When an escaped man called Joe turns up in their barn half dead, she calls on the doctor and helps to first heal then conceal the man from the men who would capture Joe and return him south. Tensions in the town rise when the war begins as many young men head off to fight for the Union where others have ties to the Confederacy.

The threads of plot that run through the novel do all connect in one way or another on the surface but when it comes to the themes underpinning the story, they’re a bit too scattered for anything to resonate with much strength. The sheer number of characters and their perspectives were spoke to the scope of the story undertaken but prevented the novel from achieving the depth necessary for thorough engagement. It was easy to feel like I was reading a detailed outline of plot points rather than a fully developed novel—a series of vignettes perhaps, but one where the underlying connective threads are informed rather then substantive.

Time passes too quickly and with too much jumping around narratively for the various arcs of character development to work cleanly. The level of interiority provided in the text gestures in predictable directions but with such large gaps between seeing some of these characters, it must be taken as given that they’ve undergone significant changes of heart “off-screen.” While it’s a leap that can be made, it isn’t necessarily a comfortable one (or in some cases, a convincing one).

Perhaps it is because I found several of the threads quite promising that I found myself disappointed in the novel as a whole. It felt like it couldn’t make up its mind about where to narrow its focus and so remained scattered; never directly about anything but indirectly about everything.

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires will be available for purchase tomorrow, August 29, 2017.
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As an avid fan of the Decatur Book Festival, I was excited to pick up this debut novel by Daren Wang, the founder and 12 year CEO of the nation's largest independent book festival.  Wang comes from a background of administration, not writing and, I have read that for years, he tried to take the spark for this novel and give it to another writer to develop.  Instead, he took his through research and wrote a lovely novel about the American civil war.  Wang grew up in Upstate New York in a house that was a converted barn and part of a larger property.  This barn was a stop on the historical Underground Railroad.  When Wang learned of this history, he researched the house and it's inhabitants and, ultimately, wrote with lovely prose this driving epic of the civil war centered around the house he grew up in.  A very satisfying read which I recommend to a wide audience.
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Lovely historical fiction that looks at a niche aspect of the Civil War- a northern town that seceded.  While some of the plot might seem predictable, Wang has created a wonderful character in Mary, who defies convention and expectations as 23 year old college graduate, who works to assist runaway slaves.  Her voice echoes through the book.  Others, especially Joe, who Is the linchpin of the tale, are equally well drawn.  There's a terrific sense of place, as well as of time, in this nicely written novel.  I've read many books set during the Civil War; this one is a standout not only because it's different but also because it's got a huge heart.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Highly recommend this to fans of historical fiction.  This is a terrific debut- I'm very much looking forward to more from Wang.
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CIVIL WAR - 1861-1865

$1000 REWARD.  Joe Bell is a fugitive slave on the run....he didn't want to run....he didn't want to leave sister Alaura behind at Walnut Grove Plantation....but he had no choice....and Yates Bell wants him DEAD.

Mary Willis is a 23 year old university-educated strong-willed spinster who is bored with farm life....AND the local boys in Town Line, New York, but she soon finds purpose to her daily routine....a secret and dangerous new endeavor....helping runaway slaves.  (no spoiler here). 

Father Nathan wears the pants in the family....runs the farm and the mill....a big man in the town he founded, and Brother Leander....well, he just wants to hang with his friends and get off the farm to give big city life a go.

THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF NORTHERN FIRES is a work of historical fiction mixed with facts from the past during a time of great upheaval in America, and Daren Wang's memory, creativity and research behind an old forgotten diary in his childhood home....the Willis home....brings to life this amazing story.  A fine debut.....but oh I wanted MORE! 

Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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I was really attracted to this book. The story is right up my alley and the cover is gorgeous.

I think it was okay. But I get really annoyed with narratives that have multiple points of view. You get engrossed in the story only for it to stop and move on to someone else.

If you're not bothered by multiple points of view, then go ahead and read it!
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I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Daren Wang, and St. Martin's Press - Thomas Dunn Books in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.

This is an excellent Civil War historical novel, told from a very unique viewpoint.  Daren Wang tells his story from the perspective of a farmer's daughter from Town Line in upstate New York, a slave fleeing his home and family near Harper's Ferry, and an escaped boy from the orphan train traveling through upper New York on it's way to drop him off in Cincinnati. There are of course many other protagonists, but these three carry the tale and tell it very well from 1861 through the assassination of President Lincoln.  This is a book I will cherish, happily recommend  and want to read again.
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My review for the AJC: http://www.myajc.com/entertainment/books--literature/daren-wang-hidden-light-burns-with-war-wanderlust/TisuoptWvlfs3CMVFEVJgI/
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