Hostilities are about to erupt when student Jullian Day climbs off the ship that took him from England to Virginia and, as war grips the colonies, he learns about liberty the hard way.
Thane masterfully uses Jullian to represent the unenlightened British with their unthinking allegiance to the King and their lack of understanding of the people who rebelled against taxation without representation. In Saint John (Sinjie) Sprague she finds a representative of the new nation, with his energy, good-natured optimism, and courageous support for the Cause of Liberty. Through 250 pages and seven years of war Jullian and Saint John’s friendship undergo twists while their romantic relationships negotiate turns.
Sinjie first meets Jullian at the wharf at Yorktown. Expecting to see wigwams and fur traders, Jullian is surprised by the gentility of Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital city. His father had died on the ship and he tells Sinjie that he only wants to return home as soon as he can earn enough. Sinjie wants him to make America his home, and finds him a well-paying job teaching school.
Jullian is told that he is now a member of Sinjie’s family. Sinjie’s affection is matched by a charming aunt, and outdone by a beautiful sister who quickly falls in love with him.
The reader will be impressed by Thane’s ability to pack a lot of meaning into a few words. A Continental soldier is described as:
“a lean, hard-bitten man with a big nose-twice wounded but indestructible, nursing a grim and gnawing desire to see the war out wherever it carried him and however long it took.”
This kind of writing, combined with Thane’s extensive historical knowledge, allows for realism without tedium. Characters and settings are never more or less than what has been told of by historians, but they are still fascinating. Customs, clothing, and habits are authentic. Unusual people and unlikely events receive the real-life response they would have drawn from ordinary people.
It is often forgotten that the revolutionary era had a feminist movement that inspired the State of New Jersey to give the vote to women, a law that remained on the books for 31 years. Within Thane’s novel this is reflected in a child prodigy named Tibby Mawes. She has been tutored by her twin brother and has taught herself more. Though Tibby talks like a child, she exhibits wisdom far beyond her years. She begs to attend a school meant for the boys of wealthier parents. When brought before a panel that can give her a scholarship, she is questioned by no less than Thomas Jefferson. She gets his support when she says:
“A fallow field isn’t good to anybody, sir... You might as well plough it up and plant something there.”
By the end of the novel, Tibby is 17 and has developed more than her brain-power. It is her romantic involvement with Jullian that stimulates enough suspense to drive the reader right up to the last page.
First in The Williamsburg Series.
Moderate violence. No disturbing content. P.C.
Elswyth Thane on Wikipedia. (click here)