Beneath the Bonnie Blue Flag: A Novel from the de Melilla Chronicles

Written by Stephen Estopinal
Review by Anna Belfrage

There are instances when an author’s impressive knowledge about a period is more of a hindrance than a help. Instead of concentrating on developing the narrative, the author is instead distracted into giving the reader far-too-detailed information. This, unfortunately, is the case with Mr Estopinal’s book, where I find myself drowning in everything from extremely detailed descriptions of surveying work in the early 19th century, to equally long descriptions about how to portage boats. It does not help that the prose is underdeveloped and abrupt, and that both the editing and formatting leave a lot to desire.

Beneath the Bonnie Blue Flag is the story of Esteban and his adventures in those years when Spain, France and the United States struggle for control over the territory of Louisiana. Esteban is also indirectly involved in the doomed attempts to create an independent Florida republic. Undoubtedly, the author knows his history and there is a lot to be fascinated by—like the history of Louisiana and Florida, the fact that so many Tories fled the recently liberated United States to build a new life in the territories controlled by Spain, and the interaction with the Choctaw people. Just as evidently, the author is more than familiar with the region in which the story is set. And yes, Esteban de Melilla has potential as a protagonist, but for me, he never emerges as a person, bogged down by all those superfluous and tedious descriptions.

For those with a keen interest in the history of the Spanish dominions in the present-day U.S., this book offers a lot of insight. For those who want a gripping story to get lost in, not so much.