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on 26 December 2010
As a general rule, I'm not too keen on historical fiction. I do dabble in reading it now and then, but I can't compare this to anything else I've read, no doubt due to my own failure to read enough of it. Obviously I had heard the names in the story (General Washington anyone?) and had a semblance of the actual history, but the daring feat of historical fiction is to bring the characters alive. I was not immediately convinced by the characterizations; it took more than a quarter of the novella. But. Once the characters had me, I was completely captive; I needed to know what happened. As a person who rarely reads history, a list of the characters and a short paragraph of their known roles would have been helpful--once I cared about the characters, I would have found this an interesting appendix. Or perhaps as I was reading, I would have dipped to the back to check--a map of where these people belonged in the history of the story/time of telling.

Never mind my lack of education, the story itself was well-told. One thing history books fail to do for me is bring alive the sacrifice, the desperation...the very deaths of the people. Historical fiction, when done well, gives a more complete backdrop--it shares emotions, setting, smells, heat and in this case severe cold. It captures the sudden emptiness upon the death of a worn soldier. This novella does what dry history does not; it painted just how badly Americans wanted freedom, hated taxes, and how many wanted a fresh start. It also reminded me that war--all war--pleads for Divine Intervention.

This novella showed the desperation of the Revolution and how on many, many counts, it probably should not have succeeded--perhaps it really was nothing short of a miracle that it did. And while there may be myths embedded in the facts, there was also the very real picture of lazy politicians/leaders who could not believe anyone would be bold, brave or determined enough to fight for anything at all. Those in leadership positions believed too much in their own comfortable lives, their own power and the status quo--mostly because they were quite happy with it. Such beliefs are a dangerous but common failing, one that human nature falls for again and again.

I wish books like this had been used to supplement the teaching of history when I was in high school. While it does blend facts and fiction, it has a powerful impact.
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