Nick Brett's Reviews > The Fort

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
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Nov 08, 2010

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In Britain we had a brilliant cunning plan - we shipped out convicts to Australia and our religious nutcases over to the newly discovered America. In retrospect we are well aware that we should have left these two groups at home and shipped ourselves out to the paradise of Australia and the land of plenty that was America. But I digress, let's roll forward to the point where America tired of British rule, British Kings and, more importantly, British taxes. Obviously an unreasonable attitude but the War of Independence was their way of kicking us out and this novel, based on fact, is set during that war.

Some spoilers here, but I'm not sure if they count in a factual novel...

In 1779 a force of Scottish infantry with limited support from the Royal Navy was ordered to hold a key peninsula in Maine (called Majabigwaduce) while the Americans were equally determined to take it back.

British author Cornwell tries very hard to be objective and portray both sides in this conflict with balance. He obviously discovered an piece of American history that was not well known and decided to base a novel on it, partly because of the historical interest, but also because some key historical figures were involved, John Moore (later to become one of Britain's finest soldiers and leaders) and American Paul Revere (made famous by Longfellow's famous poem which gives him far more credit then he was actually due).

There is no doubt that this is an interesting book, but here Cornwell has taken an event and placed his story in it, he normally takes characters like Sharpe with distinct personality and then places them in historical events. It doesn't work like the Sharpe stories for this very reason as his main characters here were real and that does not allow him much to play with.

The Scots were inexperienced troops but had experienced and inspirational leadership and were regular soldiers who did this for a living. There was joint strategy and effective communication with the Royal Navy but the position was still very weak. Enter the Americans with more troops and a superior naval force, but with conflicting leadership and poor communications. From Cornwell's telling the American troops varied from experienced and brave marines to conscripts and volunteers who really wanted to be farming, not fighting. With naval and land commanders not agreeing on any strategy they delayed for so long that the Royal Navy turned up to re-enforce the garrison and the Americans decided to retreat. This was not from cowardice but, given that they no longer had the upper hand, was probably the best thing to do given the situation and that they had delayed for so long. Having said that, they had the chance to regroup where the river narrowed but once again poor leadership meant that they didn't do so, and as a result the fleet was destroyed by their own hands or by the British in the biggest American naval disaster prior to Pearl Harbor.

Of most interest was probably Paul Revere who comes over very poorly here, lazy arrogant and self serving - we Brits have hardly ever heard of him, but it may be hard Americans to see a historical icon painted in a different light.

So this is an interesting book, but not a real page turner, it lacks tension because you know the outcome before you turn the first page. Cornwell has shed light on a small but important bit of history but fails to make it into an enthralling read.
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