The Fort By Bernard Cornwell

It really isn’t one of his best.

It’s a general retelling of the ill-fated Penobscot expedition during the American Revolutionary War, one of the revolutionaries great military failures. Cornwall tells the story mostly through four perspectives: American militia General Peleg Wadsworth, Navy Commander Dudley Saltonstall, British General Francis McLean and young Lieutenant John Moore, (yes, that John Moore) from the initial British landings on the Penobscot coast to the climax of the campaign.

It’s just all kinds of dull, slow and plodding, without any of the drive or excitement of Cornwall’s other historical novels. It might be that there is no fictional character for Cornwall to base his narrative around like there was with Sharpe – such a character allows for some creativity and verve, and that’s lacking.

The slow pace just wrecks the whole novel, as the narrative crawls along, dragging interminably from Boston to Penobscot, from initial skirmishes to the damp squib of the main confrontation, with everything in-between reading as so much filler. So many of the conversations and scenes follow the same pattern of bad mouthing the enemy, praying to God and so on, that the narrative all sort of melds together after a while. The action is quick and unexciting, only brief moments in the monotony.

And the ending, sudden and depressing in its style, simply leaves the reader wanting more, more that is not provided.

I would wager that Cornwall, in writing a novel about a mismanaged American military expedition, might be attempting to make some sort of unsubtle political commentary on recent history, but if so, it fails to really land effectively.

This seems to be a sort of weak character study, with the focus being slightly more on historical personalities then the actual plot. John Moore, a longtime obsession of Cornwell, gets the brunt of this, with the rest of the novel a sort of way for Cornwell to glorify and restore the reputations of Wadsworth and Saltonstall while showing Paul Revere, a very misrepresented character from American history, in a fairly negative light.

I suppose that is the problem though, in that it is just a history lesson told from point A to point B. Unlike the Sharpe novels, Azincourt or Harelquin, there is no added dimension of interest from an original character, no new perspective on an historical event, just something that is little more than a textbook from a contemporary third person view.

One to avoid, unless you’re a big fan.

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2 Responses to The Fort By Bernard Cornwell

  1. Interesting, you’re the first person I’ve heard say it wasn’t fantastic. It’s certainly not his best work but I did get into it eventually. His series – especially The Saxon Tales – always seem to be more successful than is stand-alone books.

  2. Big D Mac says:

    My sentiments exactly! I just finished it today and probably wouldn’t have suffered through it had I not been a captive audience (I listened to an audiobook while commuting). It certainly lacked his usual spark and perhaps it was the lack of that key character, or the fact that the story of a failed and frustrated expedition is just not as interesting as a story about a great victory.

    I also found the dialogue a little tedious. And what about that ending? I said “huh?”, and skipped back a track to make sure I hadn’t missed something.

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