A young woman juggles family issues, romance and patriotism in the early days of the American Revolution.
The title character of the latest novel by Smolens (The Anarchist, 2009, etc.) is Abigail Lovell, part of a Boston family whose members, rather conveniently, represent key constituencies in revolutionary America. Her father is a dour Tory who heads a Latin school and harrumphs at talk of declaring independence from the British; her older brother is a lead coordinator of anti-British intelligence; and her younger brother is on the front lines with the revolutionaries. And Abigail? She’s largely caught in the middle, supporting the patriots and pining for a lover who’s joined a militia, but she’s also intrigued by the attentions of a British officer. The book has enough detail about Boston in 1775 to pass as a historical novel—the story opens with the April battles of Lexington and Concord and climaxes with June’s battle of Bunker Hill—and Smolens has done his homework on troop movements, armament and battlefield rituals. But Abigail’s personal concerns are the heart of the novel, and the author is more interested in the role of women in revolutionary America, particularly in how they were abused both physically and in terms of rights. The tactic is appealing but awkwardly executed. The theme picks up some energy when Abigail is thrust into a show trial where she’s falsely accused of murdering a British sergeant. Largely, though, Smolens strains hard to play up a feminist angle, from overdone egg imagery to thinly rendered supporting characters, including a stereotypically tough-talking prostitute and Paul Revere’s wife, Rachel, whose sole reason for existence seems to be making Abigail blush with bawdy talk about sex.
Smolens admirably spotlights women in the revolution, but a few too many clichés and contrived plot twists undercut the effort.