Friday, August 19, 2011

President Lincoln's Secret - Steven Wilson

 I brought this novel home from the library several weeks ago not knowing it was the second in a series. I don't usual like to read a series unless I've started with the first book. Why did I then? Because my library hasn't actually got the first book, President Lincoln's Spy!! But it looked like an interesting novel anyway, so I started it this morning, and finished it's 316 pages not so long ago.

 Well it is a cold wintry day here, so a nice warm fire was quite inviting to sit in front of and read away the day! The novel is set in 1863 during the American Civil War. The main protagonist is a Colonel Dunaway. Since I haven't read the first novel I have no idea how he came to be a spy for President Lincoln, and this novel doesn't provide any back story. I liked this actually, since I hadn't read the first novel this felt like a new storyline. I didn't feel as if I needed to have read the first to understand anything in the second.

 The novel surrounds a mysterious explosion at a Union powder factory. Dunaway, and his 'beautiful' wife ( she just has to be doesn't she??! ) Asia investigate on the orders of President Lincoln. What transpires is a visit to Canada in pursuit of rumoured Rebel activities in connection with the explosion. One thing leads to another and it slowly becomes apparent how the powder factory was destroyed. Dunaway and his wife undergo several adventurous escapades, and even a Congressional hearing, that bodes poorly on Dunaway. The same fiery technique is to be used on Washington, and fortunately our hero Dunaway is there to save the day ( not to mention start a huge fire! ). Plot in a simple nutshell!

 It is interesting to compare this historical novel against the recently reviewed, Ship of Rome. In all honesty this novel is far superior. It is pacy, using some really interesting premises, namely in use of Greek Fire and hot air balloons to deliver it. The writing is of a high standard, and overall I think Steven Wilson shows his obvious intellect very well. I didn't feel he fell into the cliches that blighted Ship of Rome, and even the marriage between Dunaway and his wife had some decent friction.

 My only complaints are the title and lack of historical feel. By the end of the novel I wondered why President Lincoln's Secret?, because in all reality there is nothing revealed that can be called a secret. In fact Lincoln barely enters the novel at all. So the title is a mystery in regards to the plot. Also, like so many historical novels, I didn't get an atmosphere of 'Civil War'. Sure names, places, dates, etc are mentioned, but they don't provide the air and feel of the times. I find very few novelists who write within this genre can ever pull it off. Just read Leon Uris as a comparison. Even though, it is a competent novel with a great plot and characters ( flawed as they are. Colonel Dunbar is a notorious hothead ). But did it feel like I was there during the Civil War? No, it did not.

 President Lincoln's Secret then is a worthy read. I think Steven Wilson has a keen intellect which shows in his writing. He avoids annoying cliches and provides an interesting premise with the Civil War backdrop. But I just not sure the title is appropriate to the plot, and overall the difficult task of making the reader feel they are transported back in time is somewhat lacking. But they are small criticisms, because when compared against the likes of Ship of Rome, this is by far the superior novel of the type.

 A well worth while read that is well written, paced, and with an interesting use of Greek Fire as an original premise. But what the hell was President Lincoln's secret??

No comments:

Post a Comment