Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Washington and Caesar', by Christian Cameron (2004)

This novel took me completely by surprise - I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was because I had never heard of author Christian Cameron or this novel until I found it listed on Historical (thanks once again, Margaret). Maybe it was the somewhat lurid (and ungrammatical) subtitle - Master and slave. Two heroes fighting for freedom. But on opposite sides. I was expecting lots of purple prose, but Washington and Caesar turned out to be a well-researched, well-written and thoroughly enjoyable read. My enjoyment was increased when I found a very inexpensive hardcover copy at an on-line clearance site. Now I can donate it to my local library and hope they shelve it.

As the subtitle explains, the novel features two very different main character viewpoints. The inherent contrasts between the Great Man and his African slave give the story plenty of tension. The Revolutionary War setting imparts life-and-death drama. Characters are believable and sympathetic. The history research is impressive. What more can a reader ask for?

The five criteria:
  1. Did the novel inspire me to further historical research?

Even though I've now read quite a few Revolutionary War-era novels, histories and biographies, this is the first that offered a look at the experiences of black slaves during the War. It's another side to the story, one that I'm sure a lot of folks would like to forget about. Score = 4

  1. Did the novel include enough history to make it an interesting historical story?

The coverage of Washington's life before and during the War was very complete. Likewise the history of the black Loyalist soldiers. Score = 4

  1. Was the depiction of historical events accurate?

The author acknowledges a few cases of dramatic license, such as creating a fictional black Loyalist unit that combines features of several different historical units. I found no obvious cases of historical error or distortion. Score = 4

  1. Was the depiction of historical characters accurate?

Washington's portrayal does not contradict his biographers in any major ways. None of the other historical characters get nearly as much depth, except for Mrs. Washington. Cameron gives Martha an intelligence and sharp wit that are missing from other descriptions I've read. Score = 4

  1. Would I read another novel by this author, continuing in this historical period, with these characters (or new ones)?

I would welcome a sequel that follows Caesar and other former slaves who decided to leave/not leave the new United States after the war. Their fates are left unexplored. Score = 4

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