A Review of the Historical Novel 'Abducting Arnold', by Becky Akers

Column by Lawrence M. Ludow.

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This book has everything you want in historical fiction but never seem to get. As a novel, the suspense carries you all the way to the finish, and the characters have their own motives for their actions; they don’t just hang like puppets suspended from the author’s plot-line. In addition, the characters grow with the story – enabling you to learn along with them things you never knew before reading this book.

Because of her careful research, Ms. Akers also teaches us a thing or ten about colonial history – not only the events and their sequence, but the good stuff you never learn in a dull public school, where everything you see in those pre-digested textbooks has been written by a committee of clock-watching half-wits before it hits the page in the form of boring, bloodless characters that you can’t wait to forget when the bell rings. Just a hint: For those who still believe that the creation of the United States was an act of immaculate conception or that there was some kind of “golden age of freedom” to be found in its past, you will not only learn otherwise, but – more importantly – you’ll know why this was never true. Hint: try to picture a typical board member of a typical home owner’s association (HOA).

Until reading this book, I never understood – or even wanted to understand – why Benedict Arnold became a “traitor.” And I’m not sure he really was a traitor anymore – except in the very limited, legalistic sense that only bean-counting lawyers and people in Washington, D.C. seem to value. Even if Benedict Arnold’s motives were not the ones depicted in this book – and who can really say; after all, can we even explain our own actions at times? – you come away from this book understanding much more than you did at the beginning, and you want to learn more.

There are two other areas where this book delivers extra value to us. First, and most important to me, it is a myth-buster. It cuts through the slogan-based propaganda that all of us were force-fed as kids trapped in a public schoolroom with a teacher who had no passion or knowledge of the subject matter. Second, something unusual for certain periods of historical fiction, this story is told from the viewpoint of a woman – a woman who is as dynamic and thoughtful as any other character who is part of a secret plot designed to capture the designated prey, in this case, Benedict Arnold himself.
Not since I read Amy Kelly’s book, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, which is the finest biography of Eleanor (including recent ones that pale in comparison and are filled with ridiculous errors), have I read about a woman in a historical context with such pleasure. Even though Becky Akers invented the personality of Clem (whose story we are told in the course of this novel), she becomes a real person, and you care about what happens to her as a result.

I have known Becky Akers only by reading her hilarious blog entries – usually about the TSA and its latest stupidities and obscene outrages – on the LewRockwell.com website. This book brings a new dimension to her writing, and it’s well worth exploring. Now I’m looking forward to reading her other historical novel, Halestorm.

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Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture
Columns on STR: 34

Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.