Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cornwell stumbles with The Fort

Book 91: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I thoroughly enjoy Cornwell's Saxon Series and Agincourt was a treat, but The Fort fails to rise to the standards of those books.

Perhaps it the particular slice of Revolutionary War history that Cornwell chooses to recount -- a rather dreary standoff between British troops and Massachusetts militia.

Known as the Penobscot Expedition, the militia, accompanied by an impressive fleet of ships from the Continental Navy, attempt to seize Fort George from the British.  The doughty Brits are out-numbered and initially the fort is virtually indefensible, which would seem to promise a quick American victory.

Victory is in the offing when the Americans quickly gain control of the high ground and are poised to charge the fort.  But the American leader of the campaign falters and the quick victory promptly turns into an extended stalemate.

The Americans are riven by dissension and poor leadership.  They never do seize the fort. Instead, additional British ships arrive and the Penobscot Expedition becomes the worst naval disaster in U.S. history until Pearl Harbor.

The most interesting aspect of The Fort is Cornwell's portrayal of Paul Revere.  We know of Revere as a brave patriot largely, Cornwell points out in the book's historical notes, due to Longfellow's inaccurate poem. Cornwell depicts Revere as a difficult man, who blithely ignored orders from his superiors, and who may have been both a thief and a coward.

It may be that Cornwell's more at home with swords and long bows than muskets, but The Fort is a disappointing effort from this master of historical fiction.

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