Historically minded Gingrich and Forstchen (Days of Infamy, 2008, etc.) fix their eyes on the Revolutionary War and the pivotal victory that saved America.
Dec. 25, 1776. General George Washington, at the head of a ragtag, half-starved, oft-beaten army, is about to give his fledgling nation an unforgettable Christmas present. The Hessian mercenaries hired by King George are quartered in tiny Trenton, snug and smug, wallowing complacently in the limited pleasures of the season. Outside, sleet and bone-chilling wind relentlessly punish an exposed Continental Army. Wandering among the soldiers and sharing their misery is Thomas Paine, whose pen has been a goad to British sensibilities and a spur to American unrest. Now, however, Tom’s under pressure. A clamor has risen on every side for a successor to his Common Sense, which sold 100,000 copies and fired up rebellious hearts throughout the colonies. Even Washington importunes him: “You must write something! Anything!” But the great pamphleteer suffers writer’s block until he comes upon a campfire surrounded by a handful of hard-used militia men, including the fictitious 15-year-old Jonathan van Dorn. Suddenly a quarrel develops. Enraged at what he senses is a looming defection, young van Dorn cries out, “You were nothing but a patriot when the sun was shining but now that winter is here? My God…how you try my soul.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Writer’s block vanished, Tom gets his theme, Washington gets his victory and the overconfident Hessians get their comeuppance.
The prose is rich in platitudes, especially when the underimagined characters are making speeches to each other. It takes more than vividly rendered battle scenes to make compelling historical fiction.