Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss

My familiarity with David Liss's work begins and ends with The Coffee Trader. However, having thoroughly enjoyed said novel, I was very excited to have received The Whiskey Rebels through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. To begin, I must say that I know little about early American history. Government and economy have never been high on my list of interests.

From the beginning I was drawn to the character Ethan Saunders. He is a richly described and very well developed character. At times, even on the same page, I alternately wanted to hug and slap him. His sense of honor (when he has one) is admirable but on the same note, his lack of scruples can be infuriating. The other main character, Joan Maycott grew on me less. I thought I would prefer her chapters, but there were times when I honestly wished I could just skip over them to get back to Ethan and his story. His wit and humor made his parts very enjoyable to read. Once Joan is introduced into Ethan's "present" things got a little confusing - switching from past to present with the same character in each. It wasn't too difficult to follow, just a bit jarring and it quickly evened out.

The descriptions of places and scenery were amazing. Almost too amazing in some instances - the dirty streets of Philadelphia and the unkempt settlers were so vivid I was amazed sometimes that I couldn't smell them myself. However, something bothered me throughout the novel (and not just this novel, but perhaps historical fiction in general). Men, particularly "bad guys", are seemingly always portrayed in an extreme. They womanize and have nasty streaks a mile wide. The assumption that all "less civilized" men harbor masochistic leanings (especially toward women), never bathe, and generally behave like beasts is a little tiresome. I don't think that a villain needs to be cliche to be appropriately evil. Another small thing that bothered me was the dialect. I couldn't always tell when it was possibly a typo (this having been an ARC) and when it was intentional. Some of the more refined "gentlemen" still fell into "that don't bother me none" speech at times.

The last quarter of the book really picked up. It was thrilled and I really didn't want to put it down at all. Joan was somewhat disappointing to me in the end, but Ethan definitely held a special place for me. All in all, I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to others. I can't vouch for the history (as I said, I'm not as familiar with early American history as maybe I ought to be) but it was definitely interesting and entertaining.

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