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Book Review: Halestorm by Becky Akers

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In the pageant of American history, the American Revolution is the ultimate pivotal moment, and the bravery shown by the early patriots cannot be denied when they fought for what they believed in — freedom from government control and unfair taxation. Many of those patriots died before ever knowing their cause had succeeded.

Among those martyrs to the cause of freedom was Nathan Hale, famous today for his final words, “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” But who was Nathan Hale really, and what motivated him to die so bravely?

Becky Akers has brought Nathan Hale’s past alive in her new novel Halestorm, a book with a clever pun in its title much like the puns she depicts Nathan Hale as having loved. In her Author’s Note at the book’s end, Akers admits she had to take a few liberties with her plot, but her fiction brings alive the time of the American Revolution in beautifully written prose and in a manner that nonfiction can never achieve.

Halestorm opens with Nathan Hale and his brother going off to college at Yale, while his stepsister Alice is deeply in love with him. Since Nathan’s brother and Alice’s sister have recently married, Nathan and Alice see no reason why their love cannot also have such a happy ending, but they soon find that their parents are greatly opposed to their marriage. Their attempts to be together and the obstacles that result — including Nathan’s promise to his father that he will not marry Alice — make for many twists and turns in the lovers’ lives.

Alice and Nathan’s love story is played out against the rising disgust in the colonies with the British government and the conflict between loyalists and patriots. Guy Daggett, a dashing young man who sides with the loyalists, soon becomes interested in Alice and stirs up trouble for the lovers while managing to look innocent at every turn. And as the conflict with the motherland develops, Nathan prepares himself inevitably to fight for the cause of freedom.

Akers succeeds in keeping the reader turning the pages, constantly interested in the characters and their fates, despite knowing from history that Nathan must die in the end. Throughout the story, I cheered for Nathan and Alice, booed the villains, and was amazed by all I learned about the American Revolution and colonial life.

As a historical novelist myself, I greatly appreciated Akers’ pacing and her research that she worked into the story to give it color and purpose while never lecturing or trying to teach the reader. Akers shines especially in writing dialogue, capturing the phrasing and sentiments of the period. The conversations between characters often made me stop and think, “What these people are upset about is the same situation we Americans are facing with our government today.”

That Akers makes the novel so relevant to the present day without ever overtly stating the parallels is the true mark of an expert novelist. Halestorm is a novel to read and enjoy, but also a novel to learn from, reminding us not to cave into living with a government our forefathers would have rejected and gave their lives to free themselves from. I especially admired Akers’ use of dialogue to bring these comparisons between the past and present to life. Here is just a short sample:

“So you think we ought to take arms against the king, Master Hale?” The judge’s voice climbed so high this time it cracked. By now, everyone in the room was craning to see him. “That — that’s treason!”

Nathan shook his head. “We’re free English citizens, aren’t we? That means we have a contract with the government. We submit to it and obey the laws—”

“Hear, hear!”

“—long as—” He paused, allowing the tumult to die. “Long as king and Parliament honor their end of things. They’ve got to protect our lives, liberty, and property.”

“’Course, and that’s why the king disarmed that mob in Boston, to keep the peace, don’t you see.”

Nathan stood with arms akimbo. “How does a government impose its will on its subjects?” He waited for an answer, as if they were in class.

Zeke Simpson’s father obliged. “By force.”

“Yes, by force. We saw what happens when we don’t want to pay taxes. The king sends soldiers here, with guns, to force us to pay. Only way to resist is by bringing our own guns against those soldiers. The king knows that, so his army marched against the stores at Concord to disarm us. A government deprives the people of their rights, it’s a good bet they’ll rebel unless it disarms them first. Tyrants always disarm the people.”

“He’s right!” Mr. Simpson shouted. “’Twill be our death the day they have more muskets than us.”

Halestorm reveals just how relevant the issues of the American Revolution remain today. Akers’ realistic historical characters make difficult choices that affect their personal happiness and the future of an emerging nation. This stunning tale emphasizes the true cost of freedom and the debt we owe to those who make the sacrifice.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who is proud to be an American, everyone who is a lover of history, and everyone who cares about America’s future.

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