Another year has passed and another Cornwell novel has arrived. And this year we have a standalone novel which focuses on the `forgotten' Penobscot Expedition, one of the lesser well known conflicts of the American War of Independence.
In recent years, fans of Cornwell have increasingly clamoured for him to return to the highly praised Starbuck Chronicles or for a completion of the Alfred/Uhtred adventures. Cornwell has mastered the knack of beginning highly engrossing series and then leaving the reader dangling whilst he focuses on other works. This is infuriatingly maddening when I need my next fix in the series, but also a good way of increasing my anticipation for his newest novel! So, when Cornwell announced via his website that his next book would not be a continuation of one of his current series, I was a little worried as my mind was drawn back to `Azincourt' and the lukewarm reception it received.
Putting all my misguided apprehension aside, I have to say that I am an absolute Cornwell fan! I had to have the book on its publication date and I even took time off work this year to shut myself away from the real world whilst I devoured his latest novel. And after completing it, I have to say that it is brilliant, one of his best in years.
You can tell immediately, that `The Fort' is a novel that Cornwell has always wanted to write. Everything about the book screams that it is thoroughly and impeccably well researched, extremely well written and contains a new set of characters who are definitely not `carbon copies' of Sharpe/Uhtred set in different historic settings. The characters are well rounded and have personalities which are fully dimensional, particularly for some of the `rebels' in this book. These men lived and fought through a period of time in which they struggled with their national identity and allegiances. Were they British or American, Rebel or Loyalist? This battle to `re-identify' their nationality and political allegiance is beautifully and simplistically woven into the tale. You truly feel sorry for some of the American characters in this book who are caught up in a war which they had no desire to take part in.
The story principally concerns the Americans attempting to dislodge a British incursion at Majabigwaduce, Massachusetts (look out for how many variations the characters use for this unwieldy place name, very amusing!). Some authors (but mainly popular Hollywood films) when tackling the American War of Independence have been guilty of creating pompous, snobbish, effeminate, evil British officers and `against all the odds' heroic, impossible to kill American patriots. That is not the case with this book, Cornwell has created a balanced novel in which characters are good and evil on both sides, but most importantly, he never loses sight of the fact that all people involved during this war were simple, flawed human beings and not Hollywood movie stars. This leaves a book which is an absolute pleasure to read.
If you're a Cornwell fan, you'll not be disappointed with this book. This is an exceptional return to form with this remarkable novel.