"A State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands -- even for beneficial purposes -- will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished." ~ John Stuart Mill
A Review of Becky Akers' Novel 'Halestorm'
Column by Lawrence M. Ludlow.
Exclusive to STR
Becky Aker’s novel Halestorm is a perfect companion to her other work of historical fiction, Abducting Arnold, and it takes the reader on a wild ride of suspense—girded about by a powerful sexual prohibition that threatens to crumble under the pressure of an even deeper passion shared by the two main characters, Nathan Hale and his half sister Alice. Even better, there is a constant tension as Nathan Hale battles with his own sense of integrity throughout the story—concerned about keeping an oath he was tricked into making without full knowledge of the circumstances of that oath. As a result, Halestorm goes beyond merely fanciful historical fiction by pouring the reader inside of each character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. This is no wooden tale of cardboard characters from another time and place, glimpsed under a foggy time-scope. These are real people, and you can’t help but care about them.
The plot of Halestorm develops along very different lines than Abducting Arnold, where Akers supplied some plausible reasons for Benedict Arnold’s decision to abandon the cause of the colonies’ secession from England’s central government. In Halestorm, which is the earlier of the two novels, Akers entertains and educates—creating the scenario for Nathan Hale’s ill-fated attempt at espionage. But the suspense is carried more by the prohibited love relationship of the protagonists and the ever-present threat and damaging motivations of a potential “other man” who will stop at nothing to separate Nathan Hale from the love of his life. And the author keeps things rolling along with an adept use of timing, incomplete knowledge on the part of the characters, and unrelenting suspense—along with all of the attendant obstacles of hypocrisy, self-destructive motives, and the fallout and human wreckage of ill-fated relationships—that drive any good story. And she keeps it moving from the opening page to the very last sentence. This novel turns its own pages, so you may want to begin reading it at the beginning of a weekend. I didn’t, and it made for some sleepy workdays.
It was even refreshing to read the author’s notes at the close of the book. There, Akers confesses all of the liberties she took with the facts, but these really do not take away from the novel’s power as a gripping story or from its valuable portrayal of colonial life—not to mention her unique perspective as a libertarian writer. I even discovered in her final notes that the famous phrase attributed to Nathan Hale—“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”—is itself a more succinct, and more importantly, an erroneous concoction, based on his original words, which used the word “cause” instead of “country,” among other differences. And in the current climate of rampant nationalism and socialism (put ‘em together and what do you get?), this distinction is very important—especially for those of us who are concerned about the cause of individual liberty and of adhering to the higher laws of human decency in the face of the government-subsidized barbarism. So by all means, follow Becky Akers into the pages that follow the close of the novel itself.