Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss

the whiskey rebels
david liss
c. 2008
522 pages
completed 3/15/2010

read for: what's in a name challenge, year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

It was rainy and cold outside, miserable weather, and though I had not left my boardinghouse determined to die, things were now different.

Ethan Saunders is a veteran of the American Revolution who was shamefully and unceremoniously ejected from the army as a traitor. Joan Maycott is a young bride who risks everything with her husband to try for a new life on the frontier. The country is new and under the leadership of George Washington, but with Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of Treasury, bitter rivals. As Hamilton attempts to launch his new pet project, the National Bank, Ethan and Joan find themselves on opposite sides of a plot to take down the government.

This book was a lot of fun, especially coming off a quarter of school where I studied the National Bank and the rivalry of the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Yea school! I've read a good deal set during the Revolution or leading up to the Revolution, but I don't think I've ever read anything set directly after it when the government was in such a precarious position and was already making some major changes from what the authors of the constitution had in mind (political parties anyone?). So I was very intrigued with the setting and glad I already had some knowledge of the contemporary issues. I don't think it would take anything away from the novel if you went into without knowing anything about the conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson, but I enjoyed knowing. All the reader would really need to know is Hamilton=pro bank and Jefferson=anti bank.

The way the story is told is very interesting. Chapters alternate following Ethan and Joan, with each speaking in first person. Joan's story starts several years before Ethan's and about halfway trough her story begins to align with the beginning of Ethan's. So questions about the beginning of Ethan's story get answered once the reader is privy to Joan's side. Eventually the two stories meet up and we see the end play out. I felt this way of telling the story was very effectual. At first, I was slightly put off because the two stories seemed so distant from each other that it felt a little abrupt going from one to the other, but I quickly began to enjoy the back and forth.

I had very few complaints with the story. For the most part I was constantly entertained, I thought the history was extremely accurate, and the characters were well fleshed out. I did not, however, find the relationship between Ethan and his slave Leonidas to be believable. Whether or not Ethan was against slavery, very rarely at this time would an anti-slavery stance equal a stance of racial equality, so I found it hard to believe that Ethan, Lavien, Joan, and all the others in their respective groups would treat Leonidas as companionably as they did. I also found the end to be a little abrupt. I felt like we got a good wrap up on Joan's side. She explained what happened to her and the rest of her friends. But I didn't get the same sense of closure from Ethan's side. What happened to him and Lavien? Why exactly was Pearson out to get him? I could have used a few more answers. I will have to look into more by David Liss.

Once again, I have added a new author to my ever growing list of authors to continue reading.



Aarti said...

I really like Liss's books around the boxer in Georgian London, but I haven't felt compelled to read his other books yet- I think he has one in Holland in the 17th century and then this one in the US. If you liked this, you could try those London mysteries :-)

Veronica said...

Thanks Aarti. I haven't looked into any of his others yet, but those you mentioned sound good. I really enjoyed this one.

Diane said...

Shon, I was wondering about this book and have had it on my wish list for (someday). Thanks for the great review.