I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 14 January 2013.
Deborah Sampson has become part of the legend of the American Revolution. In 1782, Sampson cut her hair, disguised herself as a man, and enlisted in the Continental Army. Alex Myers gives us her story in the competently written Revolutionary.
As Myers writes it, Sampson’s enlistment was more about escaping her life as an unattached woman in Middleborough, Massachusetts than it was about fighting to secede from Great Britain. Sampson felt hemmed in by all the restrictions placed on her that enlisting in the Army was the sanest option available to her. She feels a bit trepidatious about the possibility of being wounded or killed, but the fear disappears in her realization that she finally fits in as a man and as a solider. She
takes to drills and marching like a duck to water.
Sampson’s disguise is discovered by a sharp-eyed corporal, though no one else seems to notice that she never takes her shirt off and only uses the latrine when no one else is looking. That corporal is wounded when loyalists attack and steal some horses from the Army and, shortly thereafter, Sampson makes her own discovery. The corporal is in the pay of the British. Before he can reveal her secret, Sampson tells her captain that the corporal has been passing on secrets.
Sampson sees combat soon after distinguishing herself by catching a spy. Myers follows the actual history fairly closely, relating her wounding and self-doctoring and later serving as an aide to General John Paterson. When Sampson is wounded a second time in an accident after the end of hostilities with Britain, it’s impossible to hid her sex from the doctor that treats her. Fortunately, Dr. Binney is willing to keep her secret, though he writes a letter for General Paterson that Sampson can deliver if she wishes. There’s a coda at the end in which Myers depicts Sampson in her post-military career: giving lectures about her Army life for money while petitioning Congress for her military pension.
Myers does add a love story for Sampson, but as far as I can tell doesn’t deviate much from actual history. As I read Revolutionary, I grew a little frustrated that Myers didn’t dig as deeply into Sampson’s psychology or spend a lot of words putting readers in camp or on the battlefield. The book struck me as a shallow treatment of a fascinating story. Revolutionary struck me as a treatment of Sampson’s story for young adults more than anything else.