Christine Blevins – The Turning of Anne Merrick

She spies for General Washington, betrays the Redcoats, and battles for America’s independence…

It’s 1777, and a fledgling country wages an almost hopeless struggle against the might of the British Empire. Brought together by a fateful kiss, Anne Merrick and Jack Hampton are devoted to each other and to their Patriot cause. As part of Washington’s network of spies, they are ready and willing to pay even the ultimate price for freedom.

From battlefields raging along the Hudson, the desperate winter encampment at Valley Forge, and through the dangerous intrigue of British-occupied Philadelphia, Anne and Jack brave the trails of separation, the ravages of war, and an unyielding enemy growing ever more ruthless.

For love and for country, all is put at risk – and together the pair must call upon their every ounce of courage and cunning in order to survive.

I won The Turning of Anne Merrick in a giveaway on Reading the Past along with some fantastic smelling candles and tea (see the picture to the right.) I was really excited to win the book, because after reading Christine Blevins’ guest post, I couldn’t wait to read this story. It’s set in an era of history – the American Revolution – I know almost nothing about, so it was fascinating to get acquainted with it. But apart from introducing me to an unfamiliar time in history, this story is above all an exciting adventure.

I loved that this book showed that war wasn’t just a man’s affair, but just as much something the women fought and not just by valiantly keeping the home fires burning. They follow their husbands out on campaign, to be a help meet to their men, to function as washerwomen, cooks, nurses and peddlers for the soldiers of the regiment. No fading wallflowers here; these women are strong, fierce and loyal, to their men and to the regiment. Of course, they have to be; if their man dies, then they either have to remarry into the regiment or be cast out, as we’re shown by the tale of Mrs Pennybrig, the washerwoman.

Anne and Sally are fabulous characters, who fit right in with this representation of army wives, even if they’re not actually married into the regiment. They’re strong, independent women, who need no man to safe them, as is delightfully illustrated when they encounter a big rattle snake one night when making camp. Yes, they scream their heads off, but at the same time they kill the thing themselves, while several soldiers and officers look on. It’s further illustrated by Anne’s difficulty with pretending to be a wilting flower when she’s courted by the British officer Geoffrey Pepperell who, even if he seems to admire her independent nature, when it comes to it, does want her to rely on him. Both Anne and Sally miss their men, Jack and David, but they do what they have to for their country. I only found out after reading The Turning of Anne Merrick that this is a sequel of sorts to The Tory Widow and I’d love to see how Anne came to be the person she is in this book. The other women in the book are no less strong, except maybe Fanny Loescher, who just seems in it for the plush life that General Burgoyne can provide her with as his mistress.

The men are equally interesting. Jack is suitably heroic, as are his friends, David, Titus and their two Native American guides, Isaac and Ned. But however heroic they are, they are shown to have flaws and weaknesses, such as Jack’s jealousy and his losing faith in their goals. Even the supposed bad guys are shown to be valorous men, such as Anne’s suitor and his friend Gordon Lennox.  Neither Geoffrey or Gordon are bad men, they are just on the opposing side. Gordon seems to love his wife deeply and Geoffrey is genuinely trying to woo the independent Anne. At times, I even found myself rooting for him, even if Anne was already Jack’s and their attachment seemed very strong. His final scenes in the book were very sad and left me more than a little moist-eyed.

Anne and Sally’s time with the regiment was interesting and I enjoyed this first part of the book, but the perils they and Pink, the freed slave girl they meet in the war camp, face while spying for the rebels become frighteningly clear once they move to Philadelphia to set up shop there. The set up in Philadelphia, the coffee and pastry shop combined with a lending library, which also functions as a drop for their contacts to give them information, was fantastic. I just adored the idea of the lending library as a way for them to exchange messages with their contacts. It’s also in Philadelphia that the story moves beyond a relatively straight-forward spying adventure and starts to reveal the cracks in Jack and Anne’s convictions and their willingness to endure depravation and danger for the cause. The story speeds up as well, building up to a frantic finale that ends with a daring rescue at sea and a resolution to all Jack and Anne’s doubts, but also an opening for another book chronicling their adventures.

The Turning of Anne Merrick is a story of high adventure; it’s exciting, nail-bitingly tense, and also quite romantic. The history is fascinating, though I’d imagine a US reader would be far more familiar with the history behind the story and maybe wouldn’t find the history aspects as illuminating as they were for me. If anything, The Turning of Anne Merrick has shown me – to my shame – I’m woefully ignorant of American history, except in the broadest of strokes. Something I should fix in the future. I really enjoyed this book and if I get the chance, I’ll certainly be checking out Blevins’ other books.