Saturday, April 24, 2010

Liberty's Call

Liberty’s Call: A Story of the American Revolution
by Donnell Rubay

(Xlibris / 1-436-39646-8 / 978-1-436-39646-2 / April 2009 / 452 pages / $23.99)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This is a curiously old-fashioned historical romance, which should provide a satisfactory reading experience for those who do have a fondness for such. The hero and heroine have nothing more than one seriously intense petting session over the course of an eight-year-long love-hate-mutual-attraction romance, until their inevitable marriage in the last chapter. (Sorry, I found that one romantic interlude rather uncomfortable to contemplate: on the floor of the hall? Yeesh and ugh!) Otherwise, the very old-fashionedness of it all should surprise no one who reads any further than the description on Amazon and on the dedication page. This is a careful rewrite/re-imagining of a best-selling historical novel of 1899 entitled Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution by a then-leading popular historian, Paul Leicester Ford. My Grannie Jessie actually possessed a copy of it, along with a shelf-full of other turn-of the-last-century bodice-rippers by authors with three names. I remember reading it, during a long summer vacation, and I have to admit upon comparison with the original that this is a much more popularly readable and serviceable rendition of the story. This is a rather sad thought, as well as a sorry reflection upon the state of current education standards – that the original version would be as impenetrable to the popular book-reading audience as something written in the same idiom of Beowulf or Geoffrey Chaucer would be today.

But to return to the story itself – Janice Meredith (I am pretty sure that the popularity of both names is due in large part to this novel) begins as a sixteen-year-old girl, the charming and willful only child of a well-to-do landowner in the valley of the Raritan River. Her father is a bluff and hearty man, a stubborn Loyalist to British interests; her mother is deeply religious and suffocatingly respectable. They are comfortably well off, and scorn the whispers of rebellion against The Crown which are beginning to roil the quiet tenor of their lives. Their mutual ambition is arranging a marriage between Janice and Philemon Hennion, the son of a neighboring landowner of almost equal wealth. Alas, fate and The American Revolution intervene, as well as the appearance (and then disappearance) of a mysterious bondservant, Charles. It is evident almost at once that Charles is most definitely not an illiterate lower-class farm worker. He has the bearing and manners of a gentleman. Who he really is, as well as his reasons for quitting England – and a famous British regiment – at speed remain a mystery almost to the very end of the novel, even as Charles metamorphoses into a Rebel, and an aide to General Washington.

The story arc places Janice and her parents in encounters with many real-life historical characters, or as witnesses of significant events throughout The Revolution. Janice gradually matures, as events conspire to shatter the comfortable world of the Colonial squire-archy. Her parents remain Loyalists, but even so, are under suspicion from both sides, in a war that occasionally resembled more of a civil war. It was a rough rule of historical thumb, that only a third of the American colonists were outright rebels; another third were loyalists, and the remaining third in the middle maneuvered uneasily, attempting to be on whichever might turn out to be the winning side. Plot-wise, the long arm of coincidence is stretched to gossamer thinness, but this is more the doing of the original author, who in any case was attempting to educate about The American Revolution as well as to entertain with a ripping good yarn about a lively and appealing young heroine and her true love.

See also: Celia's BNN Review

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