The first section is one of the longest, and is presented as the diary mentioned above, kept by a young man who enrols in the American army to fight in the War of 1812. From there we see the city change to tourist attraction, a source of power and finally, a city in decline fighting for renewal.
Though the author structures his novel well, his execution is lacking. The first part is violent with far too many military details for a general reader to appreciate. Further, he slips in and out of first person point of view, sometimes hopping back and forth between paragraphs. The later sections are told in third person, but the head hopping continues, breaking up the flow of the narrative.
The awkward prose, while very descriptive in places, slows the pace further. But by far the biggest problem with this novel is the characters. From the young infantryman who kills in cold blood to rid himself of a romantic rival to the 1960s disgraced soldier-turned-activist who then seems to learn nothing from his experience, the people brought to life in this novel lack true development.
I also found a significant historical error - the author seems under the impression Ottawa, Canada existed under that name in the early 1800s. It wasn't given that name until 1855 and during the war of 1812 it was a very small settlement indeed.
Alas, this book is one with limited appeal for those with a genuine interest in New York history.
© Teresa Eckford, 2006
This review first appeared in the November 2006 issue of The Historical Novels Review