This debut novel is based on the true story of Deborah Samson, a Massachusetts servant and weaver who disguised herself as a man, joined the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtliff, and served seventeen months in the American Revolution. She served part of the time as a combat infantryman, was wounded, dug a musket ball out of her own leg to avoid detection, and was honorably discharged in 1783.
This is a gripping story on more than one level. The well-researched history brings the setting vividly to life as Deborah/Robert learns to shoulder a firelock and fight for her country’s independence. She is also fighting for her personal independence, and watching her not only pretend to be a man, but actually try to think and feel like a man to better avoid discovery, is mesmerizing. What deepens the novel and makes it more than just an adventure story is Deborah/Robert’s internal development. When tested, she is brave and tenacious, loyal, trustworthy, and kind. In the novel, she is capable of a close friendship with a woman as well as a loving relationship with a man. In the end, whether male or female, Deborah/Robert is a commendable, worthy person, and that seems more important than gender.
A historical note explaining where fact ends and fiction starts would have been helpful. Still, Revolutionary is a luminous story of love and heartbreak, of personal struggle in wartime, of betrayal, and of great courage. Recommended.