“Louisbourg had fallen at last, and now it was time for the living to take stock.”
This is the end before the beginning, literally, but that is the way of historical fiction and the summation of this wonderful book. I’m no longer sure what I expected when I read the synopsis, a combination of Hornblower on land and African Queen is probably close enough. With all due respect to Mr. Forester, whom I adore, this book far surpassed my expectations, and then some. Josiah Stubb is a young man as determined to take back his life as the British forces were to take Louisbourg and thereby open the way inland. A character that should be as well known as Hornblower or Skywalker, though he’d rather not be, I’m sure; his story is as compelling as both combined.
In this first person narrative, we are granted the status of confidant, not condescended to with the ramblings of an old man looking back through the cataract vision of time and distance. A vibrant recollection of maturing beyond the requirements of being an adult to the acceptance of just what the heck that means is the privilege we are gifted. Yet, even with Josiah’s matter of fact tones illuminating the events, it is not always easy to bear the truth of battle and siege, military or personal. I struggled with understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and anger, only partially comforted by the fact Josiah did so as well.
Do not expect a dry fictionalized tale of battle preparations with a bit of personal curiosity tossed in to keep the lay person from dozing off; it is quite the opposite. Mr. Lovatt’s pacing was so utterly perfect, I was never overwhelmed, only obliged to read on. There is exactly the right amount of description to enlighten without the perilous yawns of information dump regarding life as an enlisted man taking the King’s shilling. If you don’t know what a mitre is, you’ll figure it out; if you’ve never considered the difference between luck and skill - you’ll figure that out too. I actually found myself grateful for the transition from the personal to the preparation for siege and the skirmishes between; though it began the other way and then, just as I felt impatience itching at me, the transition once again kept me enthralled.
As to the personal battles … this is not for the squeamish or those easily offended by the harsh realities of survival in the Colonies of the 1750s. Josiah began life in the gutter; he didn’t climb out easily or without cost. Yet there’s no maudlin self-pity or righteous rage, we’re spared that because Josiah refuses to dwell in either place. The admiration we would extend to him in this age was by no stretch available to him then. The narrow tracks he could walk were never going to be smooth but his heart was in it, as well as his head.
I swear I haven’t cried over a book in years and years but this one required a paper towel and time to compose myself, twice! I still feel as if I’ll need to re-read it two or three times to catch most of what is there. To me, that is the difference between a really good book you re-read when you’re in the mood and a fantastic book that impacts your life, forever.
Josiah Stubb is a fantastic book.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.