Book Review -- The Whiskey Rebels
The Whiskey Rebels is a decently written novel. It is a page-turner in the worst sense of that term. That is, the author's prose is sufficiently punchy to keep you turning pages to see what happens next. Unfortunately, what usually happens next is "not much." The plot is disjointed and full of unsurprising surprise twists. The dialog is what you'd expect from a "made for HBO" type historical adventure. There are scenes that make the reader groan out loud thanks to bizarre and totally unnecessary sexual imagery.
My real problem with this book, however, was the characters who were little more than pawns acting out a morality play in the 21st century mode. The "hero" is Captain Saunders, a wrongfully disgraced Revolutionary War officer. About two-thirds of the book is written from his perspective and he sees himself as an exceptionally dashing and clever fellow. The reader soon discovers, however, that he is a scoundrel and a drunken boob who, unbeknownst to him, is being manipulated by the other characters in the book.
The other third of the book is told through the eyes of Joan Maycott, a brilliantly self-educated woman who moved to the frontier with her husband. Though cheated and brutalized by the local aristocrat and his thugs, the Maycotts and the other hearty frontier folk find success in developing a new way to make whiskey. But the imposition of the federal tax on whiskey exacerbates tensions on the frontier and Maycott is left a widow seeking revenge on the federal reprobates and speculators who ruined her life. She and her Whiskey Boys infiltrate Philadelphia and launch a complex financial scheme to utterly destroy the creature they feel most responsible for their plight.
The other major protagonists in the book are as follows: Kyler Lavien--a kind of Jewish ninja in the employ of Alexander Hamilton who has neatly compartmentalized his idyllic family life from his day job as a spy/assassin; Leonidas--Saunder's slave who is presented as ten times the man his master is; Dalton and Richmond--two whiskey boys who the author "outs" inelegantly and then puts forth the ludicrous idea that everyone on the frontier was perfectly fine with their arrangement; and Skye, an older Scottsman and one of the whiskey boys whose main purpose in the novel is to be a rejected suitor for the widow Maycott.
The villains are all, without exception, rich white males.
So the old trope has now been completely inverted. Once you realize this, the course of events is easily predicted.
Let me just say that I find tales like this to be just as tedious and uncreative as the ones of yore in which only rich, white men could be the heroes.
A couple of the Founding Fathers pass through the pages of The Whiskey Rebels. Alexander Hamilton is presented enigmatically--of course, he is shown sneaking off to visit his mistress. George Washington appears in one scene, though the author seemed fixated upon Washington's false teeth more than anything else.
So in short, this book was a disappointment. Not exactly a yawner, but simply annoying in that the author seems to be nothing more than a politically correct trend-follower. Personally, I'm tired of those.
For those of you interested in the true history of the Pennsylvania frontier, which is infinitely more interesting than this book, I recommend going to some of the primary sources which are easily available these days. Try the Early Colonial Bookshop for a good list.