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Loarn Robertson
The King's Fuzilier

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

The book is divided into eight parts providing a linear account of the action between 1775-1776 when British Fuziliers, guarding a British fort were captured by American rebels and made prisoners of war. The protagonist is Lieutenant John Despard and the story follows his life as he endures the hardships and indignities heaped upon him during his captivity and his attempt to gain his freedom. Endnotes give additional historical background including a synopsis of the lifespan of John Despard together with mention of both family members and professionals with whom he interacts. Illustrations are used to enhance key parts of the story.
Set in the early years of the American Revolutionary War, Robertson’s book follows the early military life of Lieutenant John Despard of the Royal Fuziliers, the storied line infantry regiment of the British Army. Along with fellow officer John Andre and arch rival Kincaid, Despard is posted at Fort St. Johns close to the Quebec-American border. When their commander Charles Preston surrenders, Despard, Andre, and others are taken prisoner and, after a grueling march, held at Lancaster township in Pennsylvania. Under parole, and freer than their men, the officers bear their trials with fortitude. But soon, they become involved in a plot by British undercover agents that could put their life and imminent freedom in danger.

Told in a straightforward fashion and rigorously stripped of the sensational, Robertson’s narration recreates the conditions during the Revolutionary War with illuminating authenticity, right down to slightly formal dialogue, even as the men razz each other, plus updates on the war itself, and helpful sketches of key locations. The characters are well drawn with the more affable and talented Andre complementing the impulsive and temperamental Despard. The presence of Elizabeth Brant, who is half indigenous, and the family of Captain Hesketh, offers relief from an otherwise all-male cast. The stark contrast between the life of the officers and that of the lower ranks is disturbing. While the former enjoy a near-free life with mild parole restrictions, the latter are confined to their barracks, often in inhuman conditions.

Robertson’s interest is in life as it was lived, though the character of Kincaid, portrayed as unprincipled and cruel, adds welcome tension and conflict. In plot terms, for stretches of the novel nothing much happens: the officers eat, drink, and vent. However, the effect is immersive, steeping readers in the past and these lives, and the impressive research, woven well into the story, ensures a realistic portrait of both the British and the Americans of those times, offering real rewards for readers fascinated by the past.

Takeaway: Immersive, realistic novel about British prisoners of war during the American Revolution.

Comparable Titles: Walter D. Edmonds’s Drums Along the Mohawk, Bernard Cornwell’s Redcoat.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-