The flow of time and the way of memory and the records of history are strange and beautiful things. The past birthed the present; the thoughts and actions of people long dead shape us now. It is crazy to think about it, that the door to the past is locked so firmly and yet we are still influenced by it. We can still dream and write and think about it. We can never get back the to days of the Revolutionary War, we can never share the experiences of the men and women involved... except through a good story. Then the door opens for us. That is the magic of books, that even though we are Now and they were Then, we can step through the pages and meet there.
I don't know a lot about the Revolutionary war, and I certainly don't know enough. Yet I do know when a book feels right, when a scene is thoroughly set, and when characters feel confident in their place in history.
Allison Pataki has written the sort of book that you can dive into, knowing that the story will catch you, and then you can submerge yourself in the world of 1779.
We have a wonderful view-point character in sweet Clara Bell, a lady's maid to Peggy Shippen. Clara may have been raised on a farm, but in her employment she will witness more intrigue and insurrection than I thought possible. It is clear from Clara's first day that her mistress heeds nothing but her own will. Along with Clara we are bemused and often frightened by her willful, petulant, difficult mistress. If she wants unsuitable British suitors, she has them. If she wants to feast at parties and gamble at cards, she does so. Nothing seems beyond her, and she is wholly unpredictable. Even Clara never would have imagined that Peggy would one day marry a patriot general, yet Peggy is exactly the kind of wife you would expect a traitor to have. If it wasn't for wholesome Clara's continual presence Peggy would have driven me insane!
Peggy's excessive wardrobe, her sumptuous dinners and the ever-flowing wines that she ordered... she craved after richness and yet sought it with all of her wiles. Meanwhile, Clara's youth made her appreciate the smaller and yet finer things in life. For Clara, a New Year's celebration was banging pots and pans in the cold street with her fellow servants, or making crowns out of vines to wear for Christmas.
Clara also understood love and caring for people and hoping and dreaming, while Peggy used her admirers to get herself things.
And yet... It made me ask why Peggy would have behaved the way she did, ruling her world with coquettrey. Did she get her highs from knowing that she could have anyone or anything she wanted? Did she enjoy playing the conniving and insipid female? Was she a loyalist because she favored the luxurious lifestyle and high-society connections she had enjoyed, or was she genuinely concerned about nations and kingdoms?
Was she a manipulator of was she love-starved?
So much to talk about inside this novel!
Thank you Howard books for my review copy.
I love books. I love reading them, I love discussing them, I love writing them. I love immersing myself into a great story and having the opportunity to see a new world through a fresh set of eyes. My 98-year-old grandmother once told me: “As long as I have a good book, I will never be lonely.” I feel the same way.