The Hidden Light of Northern Fires

A novel rooted in the remarkable but little-known, true history of the only secessionist town north of the Mason Dixon Line.


When escaped slave Joe Bell collapses in her father’s barn, Mary Willis must ward off Confederate guerrillas and spies, Joe’s vengeful owner, and even her own brother to help the handsome fugitive cross to freedom.


Mary 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. As the countryside is riled by the drumbeat of civil war and the promise of an extravagant bounty for the wounded fugitive, Mary finds herself drawn to the stranger in forbidden ways. When rebels cross from nearby Canada intent on killing him, they bring the devastation of the brutal war to the town and the farm, and threaten to destroy all that Mary loves. 

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires is splendid—a distinctive clear-eyed perspective on a fresh corner of the Civil War.  The characters are fully alive, wonderfully varied, and the narrative voice is particularly lucid, in sharp contrast with the raving bloody madness of that dark moment in American history.”

—Charles Frazier

author of Cold Mountain
winner of the 1997 National Book Award