The Forest and the Fort more history than story

The Forest and the Fort is a historical novel about America’s prerevolutionary western frontier.

Salathiel Albine was raised as the son of a childless Indian chief who had murdered Sal’s family. An itinerant preacher befriends the young Sal, help him relearn English, teaches him to read and write, and brings him to the attention of Fort Pitt’s acting commander, Captain Ecuyer.

Ecuyer’s orderly trains Sal as his replacement. When Ecuyer is assigned to visit all the frontier forts, Sal accompanies him in a dual role of orderly and scout. Sal can scalp an enemy and powder a wig with equal efficiency.

Hervey Allen’s publishers brought out The Forest and the Fort  as the first of a trilogy intended to be read as a set. Much of the novel reads as a set-up to events that will happen in future books.

Allen slips all sorts of interesting period details into the novel, such as Ecuyer’s giving Indians handkerchiefs and blankets from the smallpox hospital. However, the plot is totally forgettable and none of the characters is memorable.

You will find the novel a palatable way to learn about the political conflicts of the 1700s, but you will find little entertainment in its pages.

The Forest and the Fort
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinhart, 1943
344 pages
1943 bestseller # 9
My grade: C+

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Lord Vanity‘s weak characters done in by history

French surrender at Montreal
French surrender at Montreal

Lord Vanity is a sweeping historical romance spanning two continents in the age of enlightenment.  For some readers, the period details, such as  the marvelous description of the battle for Montreal, may compensate for the novel’s flaws. Unfortunately, for most readers, the lead characters are not strong enough to stand out against the background of Samuel Shellabarger’s scholarship.

A handsome bastard, Richard Morandi, is toggling together a living in Venice as an actor-musician. He falls for a charming ballerina. Maritza’s pedigree is as socially unacceptable as Richard’s.

Richard falls under the influence of one rogue after another until the details of his background become public knowledge. Then he goes off to Montreal to serve under Wolfe.

Thanks to Richard, the British beat the French in North America. His past obscured by the victory, Richard becomes a spy for the British in Paris. There he meets Maritza again.

Lord Vanity is a romance, so a happy ending is contrived for the couple.

Richard’s lack of perception and his absurd pretension of morality render him joke even as the juvenile lead in this farcical plot. Maritza is almost equally implausible with her emotional acuity and moral purity.

History buffs won’t care; they’ll love this novel for its details.

Lord Vanity
by Samuel Shellabarger
Little, Brown, 1953
473 pages
1953 bestseller #9
My grade B-

Credit: The original image above is one of many on the website, which is a wonderful resource of well-written and well-illustrated information about Canadian history.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Northwest Passage Is Half Good Reading

Northwest Passage is a super novel about the French and Indian Wars and a not-very good novel about political espionage, both between one set of covers.

Langdon Towne finds it wise to leave his native Portsmouth in 1759 when some of the King’s officials overhear his remarks about them. He joins Major Rogers, the greatest of the Indian fighters, in an expedition to wipe an enemy village northeast of Montreal. Kenneth Robert’s makes that tale jump off the page in technicolor and surround sound. I couldn’t put the book down until the survivors got back home. Like Towne, I admired Rogers leadership and was willing to overlook his flaws.

What happens after the St. Francis expedition is another story. The second tale is splintered and murky. Towne signs on to go with Rogers to find a Northwest Passage from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Rogers never goes. He ends up in a Fleet Street prison in London.

Few novelists can match Roberts’ skill with an adventure story, but political intrigue isn’t his forté.

I recommend you read book I of Northwest Passage, and skip book II unless you are more interested in Revolutionary War history than in a good yarn.

Northwest Passage
By Kenneth Roberts
Doubleday, 1937
734 pages
#2 on the 1937 and #5 on the 1938 bestseller lists
My grade: C

© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni