A historical novel that depicts the American Revolutionary War from the perspective of a notorious Loyalist.
When Quaker Josh Lowe and his friend Johnny O’Daniel meet David Fanning, he seems less than formidable—a gangly teenager with a scalp disfigured by a skin disease. It turns out that David recently deserted from a private militia due to brutal treatment by his cohorts, and he is all alone in the world. He takes up with Josh and Johnny even though he’s still being pursued for his act of desertion. He flees north to stay with Josh’s uncle Elijah and eventually joins Capt. James Lindley’s Tory militia. Soon, Whig bandits rob and humiliate him, causing the apolitical David to feel angry pains of partisanship in his heart for the first time. He participates in the first battle between Loyalists and rebels, and he enjoys the heat of conflict; however, he’s soon branded an outlaw and gets captured. He later joins up with a Cherokee family and begins a romance with a young woman but soon finds himself the head of a Tory military company. Still, he’s relentlessly hunted, although he repeatedly finds ways to escape capture by any means available, including bribery. At one point, he’s acquitted of treason and walks away from the war, reaffirming his original neutrality as a condition of a pardon—but he still keeps getting drawn back in. Epley’s (A Passel of Hate, 2011) command of the historical material is astounding, and he arrestingly portrays David’s visceral, and finally bloodthirsty, allegiance to the Tory cause, which begins as an “overwhelming urge for pure vengeance” at the age of 19. The author combines his academic rigor with novelistic strokes, showing how David’s feats on the battlefield became the fodder of legend, even myth: “We did nothing to dispel the belief he was everywhere, unmercifully striking with lightning speed against the foes of King George,” says Josh, the story’s narrator. Epley’s devotion to detail can be excessive at times, and one may tire of reading of the umpteenth time that David escapes. That said, Epley’s protagonist leads a wildly adventurous life that’s often riveting. It’s also exceedingly rare to see a sympathetic treatment of the Loyalist side—fictional or otherwise—which makes this novel an uncommon treat.
An often masterful look at one man’s resistance to American independence.