Smith (Wah-Say-Lan: A Tale of the Iroquois in the American Revolution, 2009) braids together historical fact and fiction in this YA version of a tale he’s spun before as a novel—one that’s full of passion, romance, loss, and carefully researched historical information.
Wah-say-lan is a young Seneca woman living on the shores of Lake Canandaigua in New York. Her peaceful life is shattered, however, with the arrival of what will eventually be known as the Revolutionary War. Caught up in that conflict is Freeman Trentham, a slave fighting in the Continental Army on the promise of freedom at the end of the fighting. His hopes seem short-lived, however, when he finds himself captured by the Seneca and their British allies. Trentham is immediately transfixed by Wah-say-lan’s beauty, and she finds herself dreaming of him in the night. Soon enough, they save one another, each trying to find their own sort of freedom, from slavery or from the encroaching war. Their journey brings them into contact with figures both real and fictional, from Thomas Jefferson, who owns Trentham’s mother, to the Marquis de Lafayette, who meets Wah-say-lan on the road. The book’s historical detail is its greatest strength, and an appendix gives a detailed list of the sources consulted to ensure accuracy. At times, though, this exactitude can crowd the story, leaving it a bit dry. Characters are clear, believable, and enjoyable to read, but their voices become fainter under the burden of communicating historical detail as well as dialogue—likely a result of condensing down his previous novel for this YA version.
Solid historical fiction dedicated to historical accuracy, sometimes at the expense of rip-roaring storytelling.