On 24 August 1814, near Bladensburg, Maryland, Royal Marine Captain Pennywhistle is scouting for a suitable spot for British Congreve rockets. The British force, heading towards Washington, is depending on these rockets to thwart the cannons of the large American army dug in at Anacostia River. A sharpshooting hoyden from the Southern backwoods, Sammie Jo, is perched on a building’s upper floor and picking off British officers. She spares Pennywhistle, for earlier he had bushwhacked and then released her. However, he soon discovers the pretty sniper’s hideout and runs upstairs to her room. But this time, overcome by her beauty, he does more than just imprison her, and gets no complaints from her.
Later, with the President’s House and other buildings in Washington ablaze, and the President and Dolley Madison in hiding, it seems the young Republic’s future is at stake. On the battlefield, Pennywhistle recognizes his brother, USMC Captain Tracy. Pennywhistle wonders if they could end up fighting each other, although Tracy is outwardly involved in a conspiracy.
While this fourth novel in John Danielski’s series continues directly from the previous book (Blue Water Scarlet Tide), the inclusion of a synopsis page works well to bring readers up to speed. Its detailed accounts of the Battle of Bladensburg and the burning of Washington are made more palatable than a history textbook by the inclusion of several characters on both sides of the conflict. Ranging from the top commanders to men from the lower ranks, they let readers experience the battle and understand their motivations, although their dialogue is sometimes lengthy. The inclusion of former slaves—within the British Colonial Marines—and gay characters add further realism. The gruesomeness of some battle sequences and the details about armaments will interest enthusiasts of war stories, while the addition of an alluring romance widens the novel’s appeal.