A most uncommon historical romance, I protest you. Shine has not only researched every aspect of life in New England in the 1790s--from recipes to transport, from tavern mores to playbills, from curious matrimonial customs (a bride could wed in her shift on the highway to escape creditors) to popular songs of the day. She has also written a lively, adventuring sort of tale to present it all. Joshua Medley, traveling magician and diarist, is cantankerous, honorable, witty, and exceeding proud of his skill in his calling. A mix of the white, black, and red races, he searches for his unknown father, woos a quickwitted, Austen-ish heroine, meets a ghost, ascends in a balloon, and attempts unsuccessfully to control his temper, all in a style that almost always rings true. Even his enthusiastic patriotism and his homilies on religion and education sound very much of the place and the era. And Medley's unlikely adventures are surprisingly convincing, as is the array of subsidiary characters--from a ne'er-do-well inventor to Medley's dour Indian aunt to the hordes of hecklers and innkeepers. The language may verge on the outlandish (""'Tis a raw day, Sir, one of our famous or infamous east winds that plague a man's bones. Will you take a glass of mimbo with me to warm you? . . .""), but the spirits are high enough throughout to justify the curlicues and please all fans of historical amusement.