Washington Black cannot possibly know just how dramatically his life is going to change when his first master dies. But all it takes is a look into his new master’s eyes to know that the change is not going to be good. Washington has been a slave his whole life, he has never known freedom. His only friend, Big Kit, is an old witch who is considered to have strange powers, feared by all the other slaves on the plantation. The tribe that Big Kit belongs to believe that when they die, they are reincarnated back in their homeland. When the new owner of the plantation, Erasmus Wilde, proves to be an evil, cruel man, who delights in torture and violence, Big Kit decides that she will kill Washington and herself. Washington, who never questions Big Kit or her power, is happy for it to be so. However even Big Kit’s powers cannot save them when Erasmus finds out about this belief when other slaves from the same tribe commit suicide. Erasmus believes that in committing suicide, the slaves are stealing from him and declares, with an horrific demonstration, that he will cut the heads of all future suicides. It is at this point that we meet Christopher or Titch, Erasmus’ brother. Titch is a man of science, lacking the evil streak that runs through his brother. He is building an Air Balloon and enlists Washington as his assistant. Washington, by sheer luck, happens to be the exact size and weight that Titch needs as ballast for his balloon. Washington is quickly promoted to Chief Illustrator after Titch happens by chance to find one of Washington’s sketches of a butterfly. It seems that Washington is a prodigiously talented artist. Things are going well as Titch and Washington work on the balloon, that is until Mister Phillip arrives with the news that Titch’s father is dead and that Titch must now look after the plantation while Erasmus returns to England to settle affairs. Things get even worse when Mister Phillip takes his own life with only Washington present. Washington realises the dire predicament he is in, knowing he will be blamed for the death, knowing that his own will shortly follow. He turns to the only person he can, Titch. Titch, who does not want to stay at the plantation anyway, sets the balloon up and he and Washington ascend into the sky, off to adventures. However, is Titch saving Washington because it is morally the right thing to do or is he using Washington to further his own goals. This Question is returned to time and time again in the novel and is part of the major theme of the book, the injustice of slavery and racism. Can somebody born into slavery ever truly experience freedom as a truly free person experiences it? Will slavery ever truly be abolished from the world or will it just shift shape and form? Caste systems, child slavery, it all still exists today. The onus and burden fall of the free people of the world to right these wrongs. This is not going to be simple, in fact it will be nigh impossible but is that reason not to try? I do believe that the strength of this novel is how beautifully written it is. Not just the prose but the characters. There are some characters that demand the readers attention. There is the spooky sexton who aids runaway slaves but has a strange obsession with observing and recording the decomposition of human flesh. Or the equally spooky bounty hunter who continues to hunt Washington down even though his employer has died, and slavery has been abolished. After reading this book the first time, I gave it four stars, but upon a second reading I simply have to change the rating to five. As I have said the writing is beautiful and surprisingly descriptive. The narrative is just so enjoyable. and the characters are full of emotion and depth. For me this is a wonderful novel and a joy to read. 5 Stars.
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