REVIEW: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

REVIEW: The Fort by Bernard CornwellThe Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Published: Harper (2010), ARC, 480pg
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

While the major fighting of the war moves to the south in the summer of 1779, a British force of fewer than a thousand Scottish infantry, backed by three sloops-of-war, sails to the desolate and fog-bound coast of New England. Establishing a garrison and naval base at Penobscot Bay, in the eastern province of Massachusetts that would become Maine, the Scots—the only British troops between Canada and New York—harry rebel privateers and give shelter to American loyalists. In response, Massachusetts sends a fleet of more than forty vessels and some one thousand infantrymen to “captivate, kill or destroy” the foreign invaders. Second in command is Peleg Wadsworth, a veteran of the battles at Lexington and Long Island, once aide to General Washington, and a man who sees clearly what must be done to expel the invaders. But ineptitude and irresolution lead to a mortifying defeat—and have stunning repercussions for two men on opposite sides: an untested eighteen-year-old Scottish lieutenant named John Moore, who will begin an illustrious military career; and a Boston silversmith and patriot named Paul Revere, who will face court-martial for disobedience and cowardice.Grounded firmly in history, inimitably told in Cornwell's thrilling narrative style, The Fort is the extraordinary novel of this fascinating clash between a superpower and a nation in the making. (from Goodreads)

I’ve only read one previous Bernard Cornwell book, . That one’s pretty violent and I finished it somewhat traumatized– but not traumatized enough that I could stop myself from reading his new book. Bonus points for my currently resurrected interest in American Revolution history!

The Fort isn’t nearly as bloody and dramatic as is. It’s also not as dynamic or exciting, which was unfortunate. I have an inkling that I had expectations going into The Fort and those expectations lead me down a path to disappointment. Was I expecting gore? Yes. Was I expecting high-paced action? Yes. The gore was there but much more subdued, I think (although there were some still pretty gruesome descriptions of injuries during the battle scenes) and the action was largely secondary to the characters.

Normally I like that sort of thing, a book being focused on the characters, but with The Fort it meant that everything moved really slowly because a) Mr Cornwell had to introduce multiple characters and their backgrounds and their views on life, and b) the battle in which the book is set moved really slowly, too. In fact, at the end Mr Cornwell even said that certain scenes lasted longer in real life than they did in the book, and that he cut them down in order to make the plot move faster!

History can be boring, I know, but historical fiction shouldn’t be. I suppose it’s a bit difficult to add action and intrigue to a situation that has none, however. But still, literally half of the book was everyone sitting around waiting for something to happen. That’s what happened in real life, yeah, but do I really want to read about nothing happening? Not really. It’s a good thing I really liked most of the characters, even grumptastic Paul Revere, because otherwise I would have been skimming most of the book.

Not that it’s a BAD book. I really enjoy Mr Cornwell’s writing style, and I loved that he did so much research into the events and people featured in it. I love historical fiction authors who do the research and try to include as much of it in their story as is possible without bogging it down, and I think Mr Cornwell did that. Probably he sometimes got a little too involved with secondary characters, like a British officer who shows up for one scene in person and another only by intimation, and yet by the time his intro was over I knew his favorite foods and whatnot. In another scene, some Scottish soldiers assassinate some American soldiers beside a river, which is properly horrifying and demonstrative of the sort of things that went on at the time. But it’s never brought up again; no one on either side ever mentions it and I have to wonder why it was even included if it wasn’t all that important.

I think if you’re interested in American history you’ll like The Fort. None of the characters are ever demonized, which is nice, and it tries very hard to show that people are just people, with layers and depth and so on. It also highlights a battle that probably doesn’t get a lot of press, and that’s interesting in itself because everyone else seems to always focus on the same four battles. I sure never heard of any of the people featured in The Fort, nor the Penobscot Expedition or anything like that. Paul Revere is the only person I know a little something about, although apparently even that something is untrue.

Is this my favorite Bernard Cornwell book? No, but then I’ve only ever read one other. Will I read another Bernard Cornwell book? Duh.

Read: December 10-16, 2010

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