Lars D. Hedbor, author of The Prize, which details Revolutionary War activities on and around Lake Champlain (see my review), has just come out with a second novel in his Tales from a Revolution series. The Light features Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. While that particular event may be well known to every American, the details surrounding it are less so, and the day-to-day experiences of life within the Hessian-occupied town of Trenton, New Jersey are rarely even contemplated by casual students of history. Yet that is exactly where Mr. Hedbor places his hero. It proves to be a superb setting for bringing the human element of the war to life, which is given a unique twist by the fact that Robert Harris is a Quaker.
Though the Society of Friends are peace-loving folks, Robert sympathizes strongly with the colonists against the abuses of the king. His father, and the Society in general, promotes peace at any cost, but Robert sees their compliance with British law as dangerous. If the king, whose rule in Britain is characterized by forced membership in the Church of England, were to gain his immediate will in the colonies, what would stop him from eventually revoking religious freedom in America as well? To do nothing, Robert fears, would perpetrate an evil greater than resistance. This recurring conflict between inner principle and politics adds wonderful interest to this tale.
I must take a moment and emphasize the beauty of Hedbor’s prose. Each sentence is weighty, substantial and artful. I have a list of two dozen word pictures and analogies that I’d love to quote because they’re so spot-on, but in the interest of space I’ll suffice to simply mention them. Once again Mr. Hedbor draws on a gift for authentic vernacular. This drawn-out language strengthens the sense of setting tremendously. If you ever read letters, speeches or diaries from the era, you’ll find such language common.
One thing I truly appreciate about Hedbor’s novel is the fantastic job he does placing the Revolution within a connected range of history. This gives it a context often missed by students who study history in broken units. He rightly begins British and colonial hostilities with the French and Indian War, which concluded only a decade before events heated up in Boston. It was this war that caused the crown’s need for income, which resulted in the taxation that so incensed the colonists. He also ties in with later history by showing the already-present division on the issue of slavery.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed The Light, and I would recommend it for others interested in substantial historical fiction. Like The Prize, it is intended for adults, but I think it’s entirely palatable by young adults who appreciate the genre. I do think I would discourage readers under fifteen or so for a few reasons: the vocabulary is advanced, the dialogue is potentially difficult, and the story is of a pace and weight that would probably be above their level of interest. But for those who love to experience the human “story” within “history,” I give this one another hearty thumbs-up.
Tune in Wednesday for a 5-Q interview with author Lars Hedbor!