I was so incensed by the Missouri reviewer who thought this book was just a Revolutionary War history "textbook masquerading as a novel", and who thought that it wouldn't have been published if an ex-President hadn't written it, that I decided to write a rebuttal review, my first fiction review on Amazon. So first of all, let's be clear on what actually happened. The Revolutionary War in the south was hardly the stuff legends are made of, but it was certainly vicious. Here's an outline.
There was strong Loyalist sentiment in Georgia and the Carolinas at the start of the war. The British planned to exploit this when in 1778 they seized Savannah as their base in Georgia. The plan worked, for two years later, British forces commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, the top British general, could advance north and besiege the American-held city of Charleston in South Carolina. The city was defended by General Lincoln with 3000 men. But Clinton forced Lincoln to surrender, which put the whole region in British hands.
For all practical purposes, there were now no American regulars left in the south. Clinton then went back to New York, and left the subjugated south in the care of Lord Cornwallis. American Patriot forces, however, were still active in the region, and kept up a bloody guerilla campaign against British and Loyalist forces. (Had the word been invented back then, the British might well have called them terrorists.) Encouraged by their struggle, Congress eventually got around to sending a General Gates south with a force of 3,000 to help the Patriots fight Cornwallis and the Loyalists. But Cornwallis defeated him in August of 1780 at Camden, South Carolina.
Finally it was the turn of the Patriots. In October of 1780, a Patriot force of 1,000 mountaineers attacked and totally destroyed a Loyalist force of 1,000, in their stronghold of King's Mountain in South Carolina. General Clinton, when he heard of it, wrote that it was the first link in a long chain of "evils" that eventually led to the loss of America.
The American General Nathaniel Greene now marched south to help the Patriots' guerilla war against Cornwallis. Eventually, General Greene did battle with Cornwallis in the spring of 1881, at Guildford Court House in North Carolina. Neither side won, but Cornwallis retreated north with worn-out forces, and took charge of the vital British naval base at Yorktown. There, he was later besieged by 9,000 Americans and 30,000 French, and, as all the world knows, finally surrendered to George Washington in October of 1781.
The war in the south was thus mostly a guerilla war with many minor engagements, individually unimportant, but collectively playing a significant role in the eventual defeat of the British at Yorktown. So what kind of a book has Mr. Carter written about this war? Would it have been published if you or I had written it? Almost certainly not. But so what? A then unknown John Grisham couldn't get "A Time to Kill" published by a major publisher. Jimmy Carter is hardly unknown, but his novel deserves to be published because it brings expertise, devotion to historical accuracy, literary creativity, and a presidential viewpoint to the story of that southern war that nobody else could. That makes it unique, and worth reading. And besides, it's very good.
Is it a history textbook masquerading as a novel? Definitely not. But let's be candid on what kind of novel it's not. It's not anything like the tactical drama of the Gettysburg battle as told in Michael Shaara's classic "The Killer Angels", or the WW1 horror story depicted in Eric Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front", or the conflict of self-interest and honor in Hemmingway's Spanish Civil War novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls", or the chilling suspense of Ken Follett's WW2 classic "Eye of the Needle", or, to continue into the future, the suspense and surprise of Thomas Cronin's extraordinary USA/EU future conflict novel "Give Us This Mars". So certainly, if you buy the book expecting a classic literary masterpiece or riveting page turner, you could be disappointed. But I'm sure Mr. Carter didn't intend it to be any of those things. Instead, he has created a solid, interesting, eye-opening dramatization of the southern Revolutionary War. It needed doing, and Mr. Carter is just the person to do it. He has done an outstanding job of dramatizing the many interwoven events, even bringing in the local Indian tribes, which each side tried to exploit. This obviously well-researched novel, which includes a horrible massacre (fictional I hope) of Indians by whites, beats a history textbook every time.
Given the relatively minor nature of most of those far off events, we could expect that a history textbook about the campaign would be bed-time reading only for insomniacs. But war is never a minor matter for those at the front line, and Mr. Carter's novel brings the war in the south back to life. You experience it vividly through events in the life of Ethan Pratt and his friend and neighbor Kindred Morris, solid folk who have moved south to Georgia to live in a peaceful Quaker community. Many people, after reading this book, will probably be motivated to look up the history texts, as I was. If so, Mr. Carter will have succeeded admirably in bringing an important segment of American and world history to public awareness, a task befitting a respected American President.
I have one minor complaint. The writing style is good, but is not quite right for a novel. A bit on the academic side. Every so often, I wanted to alter sentences and paragraphs to speed things up. But what can you expect? Mr. Carter is over eighty and has written sixteen nonfiction books. You can't expect him to turn into a Dean Koontz or John Grisham overnight. Be thankful he has worked hard to create this very good novel, and enjoy it for what it is.