The Way It Was
The novel opens on the cusp of the American War of Independence in 1775. Opening the story before the war at a recruitment meeting enables the author to give both sides of the argument and the reasons why some fought for the British while others strove to form America as a country in its own right. The novel focuses on two brothers, Hank and Tom Blanchard, who end up joining the rebel army, and Ben Withers, who joins the British army undercover in an attempt to find a particular soldier in a bid to right an old injustice.
The history is interesting, and I learned a lot about how the war began and the different battles, but the book is marred in several ways. The awkward rendering of accent does not always work well, and the modern attitudes toward premarital sex and dating are, to say the least, somewhat unlikely in the 1770s. At first I was unconvinced by the concept of falling in love on sight, which is deployed a number of times. However, things do not work out as predicted, and the romances give the novel a counterbalance to the scenes of war and battle.
The enlightened attitude of the brothers toward the slaves and in particular their black friend Jimmy is heartening, but in the context of the time, again unlikely, although of course there were always people opposed to slavery and discrimination. Also it allows the author to raise the question of why black people still in the chains of slavery should fight and die for a system that would keep them in servitude and oppression. Race is a key issue, and the exploitation and poor treatment of the slaves are clearly described. The characters are somewhat one-dimensional, and the dialogue is sometimes unconvincing, but the plot rattles along, the battle scenes are well described, and they give a good impression of what war was like at the time.