Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins

For eighteen year old Anne Peabody, May 20, 1766 was far from the happiest day of her life. It was her wedding day. Her father was thrilled with the match that he had arranged with old Peter Merrick, a printer like himself, though Anne felt more than a little like she had been traded in a deal. As soon as the ceremony was over, the city seemed to erupt and a couple of printer's apprentices brought the news that the hated Stamp Act had been repealed. One of them, Jack Hampton, swung Anne around and kissed her soundly. A sharp contrast to the cabbagey-smelling old man's kiss that she had received only minutes before. It made quite an impression on her.

Nine years later, New York City is a different and dangerous place. The Continental Army is massing to attempt to expel the ruling English, the city is deeply divided and Anne is recently widowed. She continues to run her late husband's press with the help of her maid, Sally, and her freed slave Titus. She is walking a fine line, trying to make enough money to keep food on their table while not offending either side. Opening a coffee house in the front of the print shop deflects attention from some of her printing jobs, but the Sons of Liberty raid her establishment anyway, looking for Tory materials that she is rumored to have printed. To Anne's astonishment, the leader of the destructive little band is none other than Jack Hampton. She has never forgotten him.

Nor has he forgotten her, it seems. There is an undeniable attraction between them and the sparks fly almost immediately, especially when Jack suspects that Anne might not be a whole-hearted patriot. Events overtake them quickly and Jack, along with his new friend Titus, are swept deep into spying on the Redcoats in the early days of the Revolutionary War. Anne and Sally do their best to bend in the prevailing political wind, changing the name of their shop according to who has control of the city.

It is a dangerous game they play, but Anne is doing something that is important to her, maintaining her own independence while doing what she can to contribute to the future independence of an entire nation.

One of my favorite things about this novel are the chapter headings. Each one begins with a quote from Thomas Paine's Common Sense, which serve to remind the reader of the deep feelings of the American citizens in the 1770s and their longing to be free of Britain.

"Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more of less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now."
Thomas Paine, Common Sense

I was struck by how timely these quotes still are today, hundreds of years in a future that Mr. Paine could never have imagined but somehow managed to grasp anyway.

The author has painted what feels like a realistic portrait of New York City and its divided residents during the beginnings of the American Revolution. I loved the characters, they are all depicted with positive attributes as well as flaws whether they are American or English. There are gentlemen (or gentlewomen) and villains on both sides and I appreciated the author's even handed depiction of them. She brings colonial New York to life and I thought the passages concerning the great fire that destroyed a huge part of the city were particularly well done.

I read and reviewed Ms. Blevins' first book, Midwife of the Blue Ridge , last year. It was a wonderful historical fiction novel and I eagerly awaited this second book. I thought this one was excellent, too. It is the first in a trilogy, so there will be more great Historical Fiction to come from Christine Blevins!

You can visit the author's website here and if you are reading either of her books for a reading group, you can find Reader Guides here.

The Tory Widow is published by Berkley. ISBN 978-0-425-22601-8


Passages to the Past said...

I'm not usually an American History reader, but I LOVED this book! And am definitely looking forward to the next one! Great review! I really dug the Thomas Paine quotes as well.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read much historical fiction, but I have enjoyed what I've read. This one sounds good to me.

Julie P. said...

This book appeals to me. I just might have to check out this author!

The Tome Traveller said...

After these two books, Christine Blevins is one of my favorite HF authors, highly recommended!


Beth F said...

I'm definitely adding this one to the wish list. I like American History and I like HF -- sounds like a good one.

Zibilee said...

I haven't read much historical fiction set around the American Revolution, but I think this book would be a great place to start. You gave a great synopsis that really made me interested. Thanks for the great review!

Gwendolyn B. said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one! Oh, when will there be more reading time in my day?!

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.