I was pacing nicely through Faith on Fire: Thy Will Be Done (Gatekeeper Press), Deborah Curtin’s intriguing historical fiction novel about a family torn apart during the Civil War in which the protagonist is modeled after the author’s real-life great grandfather.

I was busy seeing the pieces come together, nodding to myself, gearing up to write a review, thinking about the rest of my night, and then something happened: the ending. It floored me.

But hold that thought for a moment.

How this book came about is a story in its own right, conceived, Curtin explains, in a writers’ workshop on historical fiction. Once she had determined the basics — her great grandfather, the Civil War and the Boston area — she had to figure out how to turn those parts into a compelling read. “There was so much homework needed to understand this critical time in history, how it began and why,” she writes. “Every family was pulled into the conflict. There were no exceptions.”

In Faith on Fire, everything happens for a reason, and characters try to adhere to the belief that their journeys follow a spiritually predetermined path.

ONE SON ESCAPES CONFINEMENT, THE OTHER ESCAPES PRIVILEGE

A letter arrives at the Wait family homestead from the youngest child, Charles, who has consumption and is at a home away from the rest of the clan. Everyone in the family — except the father, Rev. Windsor Bruce Wait — believes Charles is being mistreated at The Eagle’s Nest. Robert, the protagonist and eldest sibling, always strives to do the right thing. In this case, he spearheads an “escape plan” — with everyone on board but his father — to bring Charles home.

As it turns out, Charles gets home, is cured of his illness, but apparently was held in confinement for no reason by Mrs. Eagle. And Rev. Wait chose to look the other way. Something is amiss.

Shortly after, Robert is admitted to Harvard — not knowing it was an underhanded arrangement set up by his father, which also required his father to pay off officials to keep him out of the military. With rumors of war swirling, and uncomfortable with the privileged life of a scholar among the Brahmins, Robert runs from the university, unbeknownst to his family, and eventually finds his way to his Uncle John, a ship’s captain whose vessels are needed to assist the Navy. We’ll let the reader fill in plenty of details and plot intricacies of how he got to this point, suffice to say Robert is given a “second chance” at redemption and becomes part of his uncle’s crew.

On a mission to deliver supplies to Union troops in Maryland, Robert and five others are captured by the gray coats and find themselves in a “parole” camp for months awaiting exchange for their own prisoners.

AUTHENTIC CHARACTERS AND SENSE OF TIME AND PLACE

It is clear Curtin has done her research well. Readers feel they are living in the time and place, whether it’s the town of Reading, MA, aboard Uncle John’s Atlantic Belle, just the bantering of friends and soldiers, or the perils of conflict.

The author shows the same skills when it comes to creating authentic characters, particularly Robert, who not only must break free of the prison but reconnect with his family, who has lost track of his exploits since he left Harvard.

What will Robert find when he returns to his homestead? And can he learn the truth about his father and The Eagle’s Nest? It’s certainly not what he expected.

But that’s not even the shocking ending!

Laced with spies, secret messages, gritty players, and split loyalties, Faith on Fire is a captivating depiction of a family and the consequences of war. Readers who like historical fiction, a fast-moving plot, intrigue, and characters wrestling with morality will want to pick this one up.

Faith on Fire: Thy Will Be Done is now available for purchase. Learn more about Curtin on her BookTrib author page, and read our review of her previous novel, Today Is the Day here.

Art and writing have always been the core of Deborah’s background. An opportunity to write ‘human interest’ stories for a local newspaper opened up and she excelled in this endeavor. Several years later she began a column of local interest for an online publication. Soon another writing avenue spoke to her; visiting farms and creating profiles to highlight this important way of life. These were posted online through the NH Farm Network.

A workshop on Historical Fiction one year was just one of many offered by the NH Writer’s Project. The questions of who, what, where, and when prompted each attendee to find their story. This became Deborah’s first attempt at crafting a novel. But a life event shifted her focus. With inspiration from a young military family friend, she wrote, finished and self-published a current day military thriller which went on to win Honorable Mention at the New England Book Festival. An illustrated, wordless, children’s book became another finished project also winning an award. Deborah supports the military with the arts and her writing in many ways. Her first attempt from long ago is now a completed and published Civil War novel. Mission accomplished!