Tales From a Revolution: Vermont
by Lars D.H. Hedbor
One thing I like best in the world is the ordinary. While fascinated with history and, indeed, some of the figures who played pivotal roles in certain events, I know too there were others whose parts, even when as witness alone, are precious in the memory of our nation. Imagine if others whose lives we know little about had somehow been able to record (or have recorded) events as they saw and lived them—imagine the greater understanding we would have of their time, how much closer we could be to those who came before.
Lars D.H. Hedbor captures the possibility of these moments in his Tales From a Revolution series, the first of which, The Prize, is set in Vermont and told from the point of view of Caleb, a boy on the cusp of manhood at a time when his colony is about to engage in open warfare against the British as the American Revolution is accelerating.
Though young, Caleb is savvy enough to understand the politics of events in his time, and the author presents American grievances succinctly as the book opens with the young man musing on current events and what led to them. Hedbor also layers the plot with familial conflict and distrust of a particular neighbor whose history we learn in bits over time, and why it matters to his neighbors and the revolution itself. These layers are threaded together so seamlessly that the effects in terms of relationships and lateral consequences play out smoothly and effectively as the narrative progresses.
Curiously, many today have forgotten or never knew that not all colonists were in total agreement with the shift away from British control. In fact, the rebels were in the minority and in some cases households divided. Hedbor illustrates this in part when Polly, Caleb’s mother, rows with her husband over his service with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Her family history haunts her, but her husband refuses to back down, citing the cost that always arises following submissive retreat.
“I’ll take no foolish chances, Polly. But I do not think it meet to stand idly by while my sons can manage the farm, and my service is needed […] I know this is hard … war always is. But peace purchased at the cost of capitulation is harder still.”
At just 187 pages, The Prize is a brief read, but Hedbor packs into it a fleet of detail about those living during the birth of a modern-day local Vermont legend of attempted trickery against the British, swiftly utilizing every sentence to provide historical and background information, simultaneously keeping the narrative on track. As in the dialogue quoted above, the author inserts period vocabulary to bring authenticity to characters’ speech, though sparingly enough to avoid affectation.
He also manages to bring readers into the story not only with his magnificently descriptive passages—
“There was the sour-sweet smell of rum and applejack, as well as the leathery aroma of tobacco smoke. The sharp reek of hard-working men competed with the more pleasant odor of a rich mutton stew, dark bread and sharp cheese set out before one patron at a nearby table.”
—but also those denoting real-world experience and understanding regarding the mechanics of action characters engage in.
“Once on the water, he reveled in the speed he could build up in the dugout. The air smelled of the rich soil and the fresh green leaves on the trees. Reaching forward with long strokes, he concentrated on pulling the water past him with his paddle, first on one side and then on the other, correcting his course as necessary with a twist of its blade as he drew it out for the next great pull.”
In this way Hedbor grants us the experience as close to Caleb might have lived it as we could get. His descriptions bring to life these elements, but also so much more as they trigger in our imaginations the feel of walking through a colonial restaurant pub, breathing in the smoke as we delight in the possibilities inherent in words such as applejack, hear the sound of leather and shifting chairs, contemplating what these people think and feel as to the revolution at their shores while they engage in ordinary pursuits such as a mutton stew. Their distance fades and they become individual personas with opinions, anxieties—perhaps even excitement.
With this Hedbor brings us to contemplate, more importantly, how did ordinary people perceive and move through the amazing changes taking place in their society, particularly when so much remained in question? We might consider the possibility that it was an exciting time in which to live, but did they?
“Mark this moment well, lad, for you shall never see another so filled with import as this, so long as you live. I know that I have not, in my many years.”
The author thus addresses the contemplation without losing sight of the ordinary that continues, as it must, to occur. A love story weaves through the novel as historical events keep on keeping on, with all having to face the accompanying realities: a relentless royal campaign to beat down the colonists, Hessian mercenaries, food and materials appropriated by British soldiers, loyalists, the distractions of war and necessary preparations removing people from earning a living, loss of friends and family.
As events move forward, Caleb keeping a close eye on them, he grows in his understanding and abilities to carry out his responsibilities to his family and community. This brings the greater weight of knowledge as he faces new alliances as well as unthinkable possibilities. Hedbor masterfully transitions his narrative through all this, mirroring the further reality that while Caleb unknowingly rubs elbows with some fascinating figures in the birth of a nation, we witness the same, bringing to bear the idea of the conventional cradling the extraordinary.
As Caleb’s mundane begins to heat up and helps to shape what will be the unparalleled, a nation governed as no other in history has ever been, we witness success and failure, love and loss; uncertainty leads many days. Hedbor presents the tale in a style appealing to grown-ups and young adults alike. The language is accessible and appealing, the book engaging and difficult to put down.
As readers close in on answers to mysteries and questions that arise through the book, though with some that will be left unanswered, there is a satisfying sense of connection upon reading certain familiar names, e.g. Benedict Arnold—despite what we know of how his days play out. But a deeper bond also emerges when we are witness to such events as depicted in The Prize taking place in Vermont, in an area close to update New York, that we don’t typically hear much about in common discourse, including our own school lessons. It lends such broad appeal that students of the Revolution and casual reader alike—American or not, child or adult—will revel in the great pleasure of reading such a captivating story of a mesmerizing time in American and world history, involving even the most ordinary of us all.
About the author…
What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?
These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.
My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015. I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014.
I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.
You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Prize may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBook or Kobo.
Photos courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor
A free copy of The Prize was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review