DARK EAGLE by John Ensor Harr


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A wide-ranging historical romance—the first novel by a historian hitherto known for his two books about the Rockefeller family—hearkens back to the American Revolution and the complex figure of Benedict Arnold, renowned among military peers as “the very genius of war” while subsequently reviled as the very apotheosis of treachery and deceit. Harr’s efficient narrative (marred only by early pages weighted down with awkwardly introduced historical background information) shifts adroitly between civilian life on the home front (particularly Philadelphia, which eventually, briefly falls under British control) and the various battlefields where Arnold’s reputation for tactical mastery was earned. There are especially vivid accounts of the battles of Lake Champlain’s Valcourt Bay (a naval encounter in which Arnold simulated a trap, then gracefully “escaped” it), New York’s Fort Stanwix (where Arnold ingeniously co-opted enemy General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s solidarity with Mohawk and Seneca Indians), and—a critical turning-point—Saratoga. Numerous historical figures appear and reappear, including a morally conflicted (though ever dutiful) Commander George Washington, a politically astute Alexander Hamilton, and—arguably the story’s secondary protagonist—British Major John Andre, a cultivated, stoical, and thoroughly decent man whose fate becomes inexorably linked with Arnold’s once the latter has turned his back on the “pompous” US Congress that undervalues and underestimates him and reluctantly changed his allegiance. Harr neither idealizes Arnold’s belligerent charisma nor soft-pedals his intemperate vanity; the result is the most compelling of a series of characterizations that incarnate, in moving human form, the volatile emotions of an emergent nation divided by the warring claims of loyalty and independence. The novels of Kenneth Roberts (such as Arundel and Rabble in Arms, both from the 1930s) remain the standard for fiction portraying this era. But Harr’s ambitious debut is an informed, dramatic, and well-woven contribution to a genre that seems to be, and shouldn’t be, out of fashion these days.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88704-8
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999