A Place Called Freedom, by Ken Follett

I bought Ken Follet's A Place Called Freedom last summer, and it silently judged me from my bookshelf until I finally read it in February. I read it at the recommendation of my brother who would ask "Have you read A Place Called Freedom yet?" every time we spoke. Since he's into thrillers and sci-fi books, not really my favorite genres, I was skeptical. However, A Place Called Freedom is a historical fiction, right up my alley, and I blazed through it once I finally opened the cover. 

The story is told from the perspective of three Scottish characters - Lizzie, Jay, and Mack. Lizzie and Jay are aristocrats whereas Mack is a coal miner. At this time in Scotland, a coal miner was more or less an actual slave to the mine owner, who in this story is Jay's father. Lizzie is a spitfire who stubbornly does the things she's told "aren't for ladies." Jay is in the shadow of his older brother and desperately wants to branch out on his own and prove himself to his father. Mack refuses to live his life as the property of another person, so he fights back, which leads him - and ultimately Lizzie and Jay as well -  on a journey from Scotland to London and finally to America (which is still under British control).

Each main character has something to prove. They refuse to accept their current station in life and seek out any opportunity they can to improve it. In a time where women, second sons, and the impoverished didn't really matter to society (a problem that, for the most part unfortunately still exists today), these three step up and prove that they actually do matter. It ultimately goes better for some characters than others, but they are all searching for that place called freedom where they can finally be at peace. Do you see how I incorporated the book title into that line? You're welcome. 

In the beginning of the book when the characters and the plot are being introduced, I decided that I didn't like one of the three main characters (I won't say who in case you choose to read it). However, this character grew more likable as the book progressed, and I decided to root for them. That was foolish, because they became absolutely terrible to the point where I grew livid as I read about the things they did and said. I should have gone with my gut instinct and maintained my dislike, which I will do with subsequent books I read. Suffice to say, this is in reference to the character who doesn't fully reach that place called freedom, but they brought about their own failure with the awful things they did. 

Even though I hated 33% of the main characters, my knowledge of history increased through reading A Place Called Freedom. For example, before reading this book I had no idea that if one worked in a Scottish coal mine a day past their twenty-first birthday, they became essentially a slave to the mine, destined to forever toil underground. I also didn't know that convicted criminals were sometimes shipped to the American colonies in order to work out their sentence as servants, something different than indentured servants working to pay off their travel debts. It was an alternative to executions, but the journey and the sentence thereafter were incredibly dangerous. 

I don't have any criticisms of the book. It was well researched and wonderfully written. Follett did an excellent job of writing about a time gone by, while also focusing on themes that are still applicable today. If my biggest complaint about a book is that I hated a character quite passionately, that just means Follett understands how people behave, well enough to annoy me with his accuracy of some behaviors. Check out A Place Called Freedom if you want to get immersed in history and human nature and let me know what you think about it!

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