Reid departs from his popular Moosepath Chronicles (Daniel Plainway, 2000, etc.) with this first of a new series focusing on “the struggle between proprietors and settlers” in central Maine during the post–Revolutionary War years.
The former were Loyalists in possession of land granted to them by the English king; the latter, defiant homesteaders who called themselves “Liberty men” and raised a series of small wars against their wealthy oppressors. Into that volatile conflict steps the eponymous hero, a stalwart 17-year-old lad whose recently widowed mother has set him the task of finding his long-lost uncle (of whom Peter had never heard, and who is not his uncle, but the rival who had lost beautiful Rosemund Black to Peter’s father Silas Loon). Before a chastened Peter returns home, he’ll have shared an odyssey with traveling preacher and book peddler Zachariah Leach, enjoyed the hospitality of the ineffably Dickensian Clayden family (dead-ringers for the clan of David Copperfield’s Peggotty), helped rescue a runaway girl from the scoundrel bent on appropriating her, and, in a climactic march on the Wiscasset town jail, found himself buffeted between allegiances to both the Liberty men and their enemies and apprised of the truth of Parson Leach’s admonition that there is often truth on both sides of a quarrel. The story sputters a bit early on, and slows perilously as Reid concentrates numbingly on the Clayden brood’s heartiness and jollity. But it recovers nicely as urgent events grasp its characters’ attention (and ours). Peter is a splendid hero, and Zachariah Leach (a sage amalgam of Don Quixote and Fielding’s Parson Adams) whets the appetite for obviously forthcoming further adventures in a “chronicle” that thus far smoothly assimilates the influences of the aforementioned David Copperfield, Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, and miscellaneous dutifully acknowledged historical sources.
Reid’s one-man campaign to resurrect the 18th- and 19th-century novel is a campaign well worth enlisting in. Don’t miss Peter Loon.