When I offered to review Laurie (L.C.) Lewis’s forthcoming novel, Dawn’s Early Light, I soon realized I was at a slight disadvantage: it’s the third volume in a sprawling historical Free Men and Dreamers saga, leading up to the War of 1812…and I hadn’t read the first two volumes. Fortunately, this story works as a “stand alone read,” thanks in part to the author’s helpful listing of all the various characters.
The saga begins after the Revolutionary War (around 1781), introducing us to characters from the first American-born generation, and there is even a small tie-in with Lucy Mack Smith and her family. As the author describes the first two volumes on her website:
“Dark Sky at Dawn, book one of Free Men and Dreamers, introduces the troubled characters–American, British, and slave–whose lives are caught up in this complex period. Europe was in tumult over Napoleon, and America was a hotbed of social and political divisiveness. Nearly bankrupt, the American military was under-manned and under-funded, requiring citizen-soldiers to leave their plows and hearths to fight. They marched off, filled with bravado and ballyhoo, but the British threat soon humbled them, nearly breaking their spirit. Twilight’s Last Gleaming, book two of the series, carries our characters into the early days of the war, highlighting the sacrifice and courage of the women as well as the men.”
This third volume, Dawn’s Early Light, continues the story of Jed Pearson as he prepares for the British invasion up the Potomac and Patuxent rivers, on their way to burn the Capital. He has a wife and sister, as well as an estate full of newly freed slaves, which he must make secure before he can heed the military call to serve his country again in her hour of need. While we are kept abreast of developments in Britain concerning two other families introduced earlier in Lewis’s series, the real focus of this story is on Jed and his wife.
When it came to visualizing the setting of the story as described by the author, I was happily not at a disadvantage. You see, I spent six years of my childhood in Bethesda, Maryland, and the family of one of my good friends during that period owned an estate-like home on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. As I read Dawn’s Early Light, I felt as if I were re-visiting places from my adolescence (though some 150 years earlier).
The book is very well-written, fast-paced, and fluid, despite the back and forth between America and England. The storyline is strong and, for the most part, the plot developments all worked (meaning they didn’t give me pause as a reader).
There was one exception. (Spoiler alert: Don’t read the rest of this paragraph, if you plan on reading the book.) I found it difficult to believe a pregnant woman would willingly put her baby at risk by riding for miles on a galloping horse into the battle area, simply to be sure her loved one was all right. But maybe that’s just me. I suffered miscarriages too easily.
As a lover of research, I came away most impressed by the amount of investigation and fact-finding Lewis has apparently undertaken, not only for this volume, but for the entire saga. And she is now at work on a fourth volume, so the research is doubtless continuing.
Finally, I must comment upon her expansive vocabulary. Since my blog is all about words, I couldn’t help noticing the author never got lazy with her descriptions, narrative, and dialogue. She’s an inspiration to all writers in this regard.
While Lewis’s first two volumes were published by Covenant, she has had to put this one out independently, but you can expect to find it on the shelves of Seagull by November 26th.
If you love historical fiction (and early U.S. History, in particular), Dawn’s Early Light and the entire Free Men and Dreamers series should help complete your Christmas list.