With as much courage as any squad of crack troops led into battle, a family of Philadelphia Quakers find themselves defying death for the Cause of Liberty as they act as spies for George Washington.
When the enemy invaders occupy Philadelphia, upper class British officers are quartered in the spacious homes of the wealthy. Many of these families are Quaker and cannot betray their pacifism by taking sides in the conflict. Often unfairly, Philadelphia Patriots assume that the Quakers are enemy sympathizers. It is a complex story that jumps from one character to another and from one city to another, sometimes leaving the reader confused and frustrated. However, the good outweighs the bad by a wide margin. Though danger always looms, the story is actually a gentle series of vignettes:
“Mandy... rested one lean, coffee colored hand on the butt of the axe. She put the other one up to shield her eyes so she could watch his approach from out of the watery glare of the early morning sun.”
The tests and trials of its young characters are told with poise and grace, teaching while engaging. Mild humor, cautious metaphors, and occasional hints of religion move at an easy pace:
“Seth wished that the Creator had designed cows with sled runners. Or he wished that He at least had equipped this particular cow with them. Seth trampled the shoulder-high drifts as best he could, but his feet had no more feeling than two lumps of lead.”
Familiar historical characters are given strong roles: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, Peggy Shippen and British Major John Andre. The fictional Quaker spies are part of the historical Culper Ring, a group of Patriot spies that operated out of New York City. They transported their information from British-occupied zones, across Long Island Sound, to Washington’s troops in Connecticut.
As with several of the author’s works, St. Clair Robson retells male-dominated stories from a woman’s perspective. Shadow Patriots comes primarily from the point of view of the heroine, Kate Darby. Family religion did not stop her younger brother Seth from running away at age 14 to join the Continental Army at the encampment at Valley Forge. The author knows her major characters as if they are old friends. When Seth or Kate says something, it always comes across as authentically them:
“I’ve had some narrow squeaks, [said Seth,] but it’s the Americans I fear. They mistake me for an enemy spy now and then and collar me. Once I had to make a frog’s leap into a ditch and stamp off smartly to keep them from turning my carcass into a flour sieve.”
Even the bad guys are characters that readers will love to hate:
“He knows we women are as curious as cats,” [said Kate.}
“He knows that about women, and a lot more,” Lizzie rolled her eyes, “Captain André could charm the warts off a toad.”
The characters use the colorful metaphors popular at the time, but sometimes the poetic language is excessive. A perfectly healthy greyhound is described as:
“a bundle of willow sticks with a dogskin thrown over and shrunk to fit.”
But is this such a shortcoming? Surely most readers of fiction want strong characters and lively imagery, and not dry and dreary minimalism. When it concerns something that matters, like characters that you worry about, and hooks and hints that keep you reading, St. Clair Robson delivers.
First in the Renegades of the Revolution Series.
Moderate violence. No disturbing content. P.C.
Lucia St. Clair Robson's webpage. (click here).