3 out of 4 stars
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Saving Washington: The Forgotten Story of the Maryland 400 is a historical fiction novel by Chris Formant set during the American War of Independence, based on real events. General George Washington and his wife Martha are eating dinner when a young courier interrupts them with a message for George. He learns his Continental Army has lost the Battle of Rice Boats on the Savannah River, with a dozen rice-laden cargo ships captured by the Royal Navy and now likely headed to feed the British. Upon seeing George's two huge pine travel chests in the hallway, Martha realises her husband will be heading off to battle once more. Meanwhile, Joshua Bolton leaves the Cat's Eye pub and sees Ben Wright on the street. Ben is Josh's childhood friend, a young black man born free of slavery. Josh wonders if there is more to life than staying in Baltimore as a merchant like his father. As he and Ben head back into the Cat's Eye, he hears a boy, Thomas, yelling for help, as three British sailors are beating his father. The two young men rescue the boy's father and Ben hands him some coins to compensate him for money stolen by the sailors. Soon, like others in town, Josh and Ben question the rule of their colonial masters, who heavily tax and restrict the freedoms of US citizens. Along with others, they join the Maryland regiment of General Washington's patriot army. Together, they set off toward New York to face the might of King George's army, a British force far superior in numbers and skill to their own...
Right from the start, I felt immersed in this tale of an America yearning for freedom from its oppressive British rulers in the late 18th century. Formant's settings provided a great atmosphere and demonstrated his clear knowledge of the time period, with writing such as: "Joshua Bolton stepped out of the Cat's Eye Pub to provide his nostrils with some relief from the rotted oyster and sweat stench of the dockworkers and sailors crammed inside." His prose was generally strong and economical; for example: "A scruffy sailor with glassy eyes snapped his head toward Josh." Also, his physical descriptions of characters seemed neat and natural within the context of the story: "He removed his hat to shake off the water, revealing jet black hair speckled with gray strands." The introduction to heroes Josh and Ben left no doubt about their compassion and integrity as they aided young Thomas and his victimised father, with Ben's generosity in replacing the beaten man's stolen money a touching gesture. The character development had depth and authenticity, with both the protagonists and antagonists given fair and equal treatment. The romantic interests were also developed appropriately and seemed realistic, with one character's human weakness jeopardising one of the relationships in the book.
Saving Washington also featured some good humour between the characters, plus a comedic play at a local pub which poked fun at the banter between a "redcoat" (British army soldier) and a vice-admiral, featuring some very funny lines. Though era-appropriate, this humour was clever enough to work nicely, since I was well indoctrinated in the setting of the novel by the time it appeared. The story itself developed at a good pace, from the Maryland Militia's first deployment from Baltimore through to their travel to the front lines. This included some camping in terrible conditions, dealing with rain, mud, the stench of their own faeces in a nearby trench, and a stomach virus sweeping through the camp. I really got a strong sense of the difficulties and discomforts faced by the brave men and women in the patriot war effort. The climactic scenes were magnificent, stirring and emotional, as the Marylanders faced off against the superior numbers and training of the British army. Without revealing too much, I can tell you that the blurb for this book compared these brave men to the Spartans of ancient Greece featured in the movie 300, and it lived up to my expectations in this regard.
As for negatives, this book had some minor typographical errors, most of which were missing punctuation or an extra word left in at the editing stage. There were also occasional homophone errors such as "past" for "passed," "wreak" for "reek," and "peak" for "peek." However, none of these errors detracted much from my enjoyment of the story and the characters. Also, there were formatting characters visible in the .pdf file which hadn't translated into the proper formatting. These only occurred on the title page, for chapter headers, and for setting changes mid-chapter. The line spacing between paragraphs also varied a bit through the book, from larger blocks of whitespace early on to no space at all in the last ten pages or so, which appeared a little crammed together. Again, these issues didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book but would be something the author would need to fix before electronic publication.
Despite the minor errors, I really enjoyed Saving Washington. It had strong characters, a powerful central conflict, plenty of action, romance, and gritty realism. I really felt immersed in the story and setting, as if I were travelling with the protagonists on their journey. The cover of the book also impressed me with its visual impact. With the editing issues fixed, I would definitely rate this book 4 stars. For now, I can only give it 3 out of 4 stars. Anyone interested in books about war, especially the American War of Independence, should enjoy this book; just be warned that it does contain some profanity and plenty of violence.
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