Its back cover advertises Drums as “the best novel of the American Revolution ever written.” Frankly, I found that description quite misleading. Drums has precious little to do with the American Revolution along the North Carolina coast, or elsewhere. Yes, it is set in the Revolutionary era. Yes, the issue of the Revolution and whether to join it or side with England plays some part in it. Yes, some three hundred pages into the book, the main character finds himself sailing with John Paul Jones. Nevertheless, the Revolution does not form a central part of the story.
This is not to condemn the book. It does give a picture of life in Revolutionary-era North Carolina and London. The main character comes from a well-to-do family, so this is not the story of “everyman” in that era. It is, however, the story of individuals who were not the movers and shakers of the times and who were not from the revolutionary centers of Massachusetts and Virginia. Because of this, it provides a view of that era that is not found in the recent spate of books about the revolution. This makes it a worthwhile read.
A brief caution is in order. This book is a reprint of a book first published in 1925. It does not present the modern, somewhat sanitized view of race relations. The “N-word” appears frequently; readers who are unable to accept this as representative of how things used to be should avoid it. But those who can accept the fact that the world has not always been as we wish will find Drums an engaging read.