Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss


If you like Historical Fiction with a strong emphasis on the Historical, you're going to love The Whiskey Rebels.

This book is well-written and painstakingly researched. Liss clearly has a thorough knowledge of the history behind the story, the language and demeanour of the characters, and the workings of the frontier economy. (It is truly bizarre to hear them keep referring to Pittsburgh as "the frontier.") All of the detail of the story rings true and those with a real interest in this period of American history will be fascinated.

The narration skips back and forth between Ethan Saunders, a former spy who was falsely accused of treason, and Joan Maycott, a headstrong young woman married to a war veteran. Ethan Saunders would like to reclaim his good name, but fears he can only do so at the expense of his partner, who died soon after the accusations became public. Joan Maycott and her husband, Andrew, are trying to make a good life for themselves on the wild frontier, and are caught up in the beginnings of what will become the Whiskey Rebellion. The movement between narrators is never confusing, and the shifting viewpoints gives you a chance to look at the story from all angles.

The problem, for me, was that I just didn't care about any of these characters. I didn't care if Joan Maycott wrote the first American novel. I didn't care if Ethan Saunders reclaimed his good name and won the affection of the affection of the lovely Cynthia. The only thing I was vaguely curious about was when and how Ethan would tell Leonidas, his slave, that he had freed him. At one point, I accidentally left this book on my credenza at work over the weekend...and I didn't miss it one bit. That is almost without precedent. I realize I am a lone dissenter in this case; most of the reviews I have read have been far more glowing. Sadly, this book just did not capture me.

So how to summarize? The book is well-written, extremely detailed and historically accurate. If you're more interested in the history than the fiction, you'll be pleased, but even the author's skill couldn't make a compelling story out of the monetary policies of Alexander Hamilton. History buffs will love it, but others might want to give it a pass.

The Whiskey Rebels will be released September 30th. My copy was an Advanced Reader Edition. Pre-order yours at Amazon.com.

4 comments:

Dave said...

Thanks for the review. I really liked A Conspitracy of Paper, because of the ways it wove economic and social history together. But I was less enamored of Coffee Trader, and was wondering about this one. I may pass on it now.

Ali said...

I'm picky about Historical Fiction--I want it to be painstakingly researched and accurate, but I want to be swept up in the story. For that reason, I don't read a lot of it and I'm always thrilled when I find one that really works for me. Sorry this wasn't one of those for you. This is a really well-written and fair review, thank you for writing it.

Lenore said...

I'll be reading this soon - it a LTER book - I'm still looking forward to it because I like good, well researched historicals. Let's see if I can care!

Pam T said...

Nice review. Doesn't sound like the book is for everybody, but count me in as someone who's interested in snagging a copy.

ThePam
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