by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): This riveting story of tragedy, heroism, and the power of redemption is magnificent storytelling about a dark time in our nation’s history.

Written by Rachel Beanland, this is a fictionalized account of the true story of the horrific fire that destroyed the only theater in Richmond, Virginia on December 26, 1811 with more than 600 men, women, and children inside—dozens of whom were trapped and perished in the flames and smoke.

Ingeniously plotted, it is told from the point of view of four different people: • Sally Henry Campbell: Now a young widow, the daughter of Patrick Henry attends the play with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Archie and Margaret Campbell, sitting in a third-floor box along with about a dozen other people.

• Jack Gibson: A 14-year-old working backstage, whose actions cause the deadly fire.

• Cecily Patterson: A young slave who accompanied her mistress to the play but sat in the gallery with the other slaves and freed Blacks. She escapes the fire but realizes that if her master and mistress assume she has died, this is her chance to run away to the north.

• Gilbert Hunt: A middle-aged slave and blacksmith who is a giant of a man—in body and heart. When he hears about the fire, he races to the site and heroically saves about a dozen women by catching them as they jump out the windows.

The story is plotted daily from the night of the fire on Thursday, December 26 to Sunday, December 29, following historical events through the actions, thoughts, and feelings of the four characters. As officials try to discern the cause of the fire, the theater company tries to cover it up, blaming it on a nonexistent slave rebellion, which in turn creates mayhem for the local slave population.

Meanwhile, Sally comes to a startling conclusion about why so many of the 72 people who died that night were women, and Cecily’s plans to run away may be thwarted as she involves her family with potentially deadly consequences for them. Gilbert Hunt is lauded as a hero, but his cruel master is disgusted and appalled at the adulation and takes it out on Gilbert. Jack is tormented between supporting the lies started by the theater company about the slave rebellion causing the fire and confessing his own guilt in the matter.

This is historical fiction at its finest! The plot is riveting, and the writing is superb. Each chapter focuses on one of the four characters, and it doesn’t take long for those chapters to end in cliffhangers, making this one of those unputdownable books.

Bonus: Do read the fascinating Author’s Note at the end as it details many facts about the fire and its aftermath years later.