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The British send 1,000 Scottish infantry to establish a base in Maine, and when the State of Massachusetts send a naval and infantry force to drive them out, their effort ends in ignominious failure.

       This is a novel that could have been subtitled, Everything You Wish You Had Never Known About Paul Revere. It tells, with forensic detail, of an series of events that took place in the summer of 1779, at Penobscot Bay. It is the true account of how Paul Revere got the military command he had dreamed of. The story that unfolded will not warm the heart of a Yankee Patriot. He managed things so badly that he was accused of disobedience and cowardice. He was dismissed from the militia but was later cleared. If Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had known more about this, the poem might have been called “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” (who was another of the riders sent out to warn the minutemen.)

       Even though Englishman Bernard Cornwell may implicitly be saying: “Ha ha, you’re big hero was a chicken,” it doesn’t mean he’s a second rate author. If quality of writing is what matters, then The Fort is second to none:

       “We shall discover something now, won’t we?” Barkley said.

       “What is that?” McLean inquired.

       “Whether they’re loyal, General, whether they’re loyal. If they’ve been infected by rebellion then they’ll hardly supply a pilot, will they?”

       I suppose not,” Mclean said, though he suspected a disloyal pilot could well serve his rebellious cause by guiding the HMS Blonde onto a rock. There were plenty of those breaking the bay’s surface. On one, not fifty paces from the frigate’s port gunwales, a cormorant spread its dark wings to dry.”

       Cornwell’s narrative is coherent, clear, and accessible. His language has an intelligent tone but is still highly readable. He can anticipate the reader’s questions and has his facts down pat. He strives to make his message clear, and considers opposing viewpoints. While his many novels usually have one protagonist against one antagonist, in The Fort he tells the story from the perspective of three sides: the Americans on land, the Americans at sea, and the British. On land, the freedom fighters were headed up by inexperienced officers. On the water were 19 armed ships from America’s Continental Navy. Both wanted the other to improve the situation before he risked a move. The land commander refused to storm the fort until the sea commander attacked three British ships that bottlenecked the harbor. They squandered 16 days before the Royal Navy arrived from New York. Only one American vessel escaped and most of the survivors walked home.

       In his description of this disaster, Cornwell succeeds in doing what few fictionalizers of war can do. He tells of how wars are fought by human beings with the sort of resentment, vanity, envy, suspicion, and fear that pervades any high school clique. He has succeeded in humanizing war, and has opened our eyes to the limitations of men who have to rely on luck when dealing with the highest stakes that men can ever face.

Not part of a series.

Moderate violence. No disturbing content. P.C.

Available in audiobook format.

Bernard Cornwell's webpage. (click here)

Wikipedia (click here)