John F. Corrigan’s historical novel offers carefully selected research and a light dusting of supernatural intrigue to transport readers back to post-revolutionary Erie, Pennsylvania, where the sleepy lakeside village bears witness to the War of 1812.
After an action-packed first chapter that serves as backstory, the narrative skips five years ahead to August of 1812, after the fledgling United States declared war on superpower Great Britain. With the surrender of Detroit to the British, Erie—a population of 400—becomes an outpost for the American war effort. The British Royal Navy is a formidable foe, but then a chilling possibility emerges: Could the British have a witch on their side?
The story is framed through a multigenerational cast of characters who are connected by the consequences of Erie’s unexpected involvement in the war. Characters based on real historical figures, such as American naval lieutenant Oliver Hazard Perry and fleet surgeon Dr. Usher Parsons, experience the physical, mental, and emotional cost of battle. Others provide a glimpse into Erie’s insular community and unspoken social hierarchy; for instance, golden-haired, twin sisters Hazel and Helen O’Shea are opposite in temperament and morals, but both women must live under the patriarchy.
Corrigan’s narrative moves at a brisk pace and his nautical descriptions eschew didactic details for clear scene-setting and strong imagery: “As the beast advanced, its bow repeatedly rose and fell in the channel as if it were taking great bites out of the water.” Yet, this abundance of viewpoints also has its cons. Ultimately, the narrative framing turns some characters into plot devices, sacrificing their interiority.
Still, those who enjoy novels that successfully merge historical facts with a cinematic sensibility will appreciate this ensemble-driven portrait of wartime relationships and the era.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.