Tales From a Revolution: Maine
by Lars D.H. Hedbor
Note: Lars Hedbor will donate all proceeds for The Wind in the month of September to hurricane relief. Books are great for gifting, a weekend read or your favorite classroom. By purchasing in September, you will be positively touching the lives of those affected. Thank you so much!
In each young adult novel within his Tales From a Revolution series, Lars D. H. Hedbor focuses on a particular region, whose Revolution story is told from within the context of how the people there experienced the breakaway colonies’ fight for freedom. Each tale comes to us through the perspective of a local, in the case of The Darkness, George Williams, a teenager living on a small island off the coast of Maine.
Like Florida, a portion of whose story we see in The Wind, Maine isn’t one of the original thirteen colonies. Owing to geography and current events, the region acts as a bit of a buffer between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts, and the inhabitants are not unaffected by incidents farther south, such as the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord. Shubael, George’s father, has pledged his family to the king’s side with the signing of a loyalty oath, but as the novel gets moving, Hedbor uses a rhythmic ebb and flow of dialogue to inform us that the man does, actually, have some rather firm sympathies for the rebels. Still, he would prefer to just live his life, as does George, whose excessive breaks and poor choices frustrate his father.
The author has a talent for creating characters apart from the standard mold; they are ordinary people, those so many of us long to read and know about, but they inhabit a wide range of society, as briefly spoken of in my review for The Smoke. In different ways, the choices they make render them extraordinary, and the roles they play in their time each aid in underwriting a chain of events that contribute to history as we now know it—or, as the case may be, don’t always know. Hedbor adds to his plots by setting episodes against the backdrop of documented historical and natural events, such as the war on Lake Champlain in The Prize, or a thrilling glimpse of General Washington in the time leading up to his crossing of the Delaware in The Light.
The author continues in this fashion with his inclusion of a Harvard-sponsored expedition to Maine to observe the solar eclipse of 1780. In fascinating detail drawn out by characters’ experiences, we also learn of a phenomenon that occurred on May 19 of the same year: a strange darkness that shrouded a wide area of land, upward to Portland and as far south as New Jersey, where Washington recorded the event in his diary. Later known as “New England Dark Day,” it was widely feared to portend the approach of Judgement Day.
George’s own observation of the occurrence is matched by that of the animals around him.
It was dark enough now that George could hear the birds in the trees at the edge of the field singing their evening songs, though they sounded confused and forlorn. The cattle were moving of their own volition to the barn, too, just as though it was the end of the day, and not close to noontime.
Perhaps more than any previous Hedbor novel I have read, The Darkness emphasizes the need as well as reward for our awareness of such events in the lives of our forebears, especially given these occurred at such a watershed moment. Moreover, many of us having ourselves recently experienced a solar eclipse—or at least witnessed the enthusiasm for it—speaks to the reality that our place and response to this natural phenomenon, indeed our understanding of it, has its roots in the culture that experienced it before us, as well as within the embryonic path of American science pursued by Dr. Williams of Harvard.
In a historically famous response to the darkness, Connecticut legislator Abraham Davenport replied: “I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” —New England Historical Society
George’s attention is drawn to this expedition as well as a rebel spy he first encounters as she pummels a British soldier attempting to assault her. Securing an apprenticeship in town enables George to meet up with Louise more often, and he slowly begins to realize that the network of rebels and their active sympathizers is wider than he once understood. He becomes more involved than he’d originally planned, partly through a growing love for Louise, as well as events linking all of them to the scientific investigation, a criminal act and the perverse justice and public relations meted out by British officials. However, circumstances conspire to separate the pair as the redcoats keep an eye on the expedition, wanting no part of further American rebelliousness.
Another talent in no short supply is the author’s ability to portion out just the right amount of information to facilitate the growth of his plot and character development. In The Darkness, Louise’s introduction might have been a bit more rounded out, to explain her attraction to the grungy and hapless George, other than his status as her would-be rescuer. Nevertheless, the pair work well together and Louise’s strength and will helps George to grow within his. Hedbor’s portrayal of the relationship George has with his two menacing older brothers is not only realistic, but often intensely relatable, especially to those readers who occupied the lowest rung in their respective families. Sibling cruelty, the author is well aware, often knows no bounds.
As always, Hedbor’s dialogue frequently contains within it messages passed, revealing the speaker’s positions, all while utilizing language beautifully suited to the era. The end result is a revelation that people are people and whether then or now, are subject to a wide range of emotions that, even when veiled, occasionally display a need to release. As George’s oldest brother, Lemual, speaks to a student setting up equipment in preparation for the eclipse study, the results of which have implications for the improvement of seafaring accuracy, he asks the young man about the importance of knowing the precise time.
“Because, on the day of the eclipse, we will then be able to determine with great precision when specific parts of the event take place. With that knowledge, and some rigorous and painstaking mathematical analysis, which the good professor will doubtlessly suggest one of us would profit from performing on his behalf, we can calculate precisely where within the moon’s shadow we stood when it crossed over our location.”
The dialogue also presents us with an opportunity to explore their perspective from their angles, as opposed to our own. Observing George silently examining
a marvelous mechanical clock, with hands that not only counted off the hours, but also the minutes and even the seconds[, o]ne of the students pointed out the pendulum that swung ponderously back and forth under the main workings of the clock and explained, “That’s made of two different medals, arrayed such that it will adjust itself for complete accuracy, even when the temperature changes. It’s an amazing advance in the precision of timekeeping, and we’re very fortunate to have this one.”
The novel’s conversations reveal Hedbor’s attention to the detail of language, not only pertaining to era but also relational makeup. Maine is within close proximity to Nova Scotia, from where thousands of French-speakers were expelled, less than two decades before, to the thirteen colonies. Therefore, when a Harvard student’s reply includes French nuance—“Understand that we are, of course, sensible† of your position under the occupation of the Crown’s forces”—it is not out of the realm of possibility that his English might have been influenced by those Acadians who may have landed nearby, especially given his likely age. Linguistically, minority speakers do not generally have an enormous effect on the mainstream language, and Hedbor’s limited instances of such influence would be a statistically sound representation.
That the author’s inclusions of details large and small, within language and other angles, could engender such discussion, speaks to his dedication to research as well as accurate and genuine representation of the people he portrays. Readers can experience this in a variety of ways, such as within the tasks set out by Helen, George’s mother, purchases and availability of items and the running of a business. War is depicted, certainly, but people also had to continue with their lives during and after, and the rich detail Hedbor presents magnificently fills to the brim a 200-page book written in a manner amazingly suited to young adult as well as grown-up readers. Being able to attract a crossover audience and create intrigue and appeal within those readers is no small feat, but Hedbor pulls it off time and time again.
The Darkness is a worthy addition to Hedbor’s Tales From a Revolution series: it is an enthralling and absorbing story that captures reader imagination and brings to life the history we know a portion of and its people even less. Suitable for young adults (perhaps even a bit younger) and up, it also brings to us the richness of our ancestors’ lives and broadens the appeal of historical fiction and, indeed, the search for more real details of the lives of people who shaped who we are.
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, and The Darkness in 2016.
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 also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.
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 Darkness may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.)
Keep an eye out in these pages for more from Lars Hedbor, including an upcoming giveaway of a signed and personalized paperback copy of a Hedbor novel of the reader’s choice, and my review of The Path, the author’s latest novel, on sale October 19 (or pre-order now).
For those in or close to Aloha, Oregon, come have some fun! Release party for The Path will be October 28, between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, at Jan’s Paperbacks.
Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor
A copy of The Darkness was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.