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A.S. Peterson has crafted a work of compelling historical fiction which begs the question, “Can this really be a debut novel?” With dogged fidelity, Peterson captures the spirit, manners, and social conditions present during the American Revolutionary War. We meet colorful, credible characters who navigate the high seas of life and love, dependence and independence, war and peace, truth and consequence, and despite forays into dark places, The Fiddler’s Gun is beautiful, lyrical, and redemptive.
The novel tracks the adventurous life of Phineas (Fin) Michael Button from birth to early adulthood, which happens to occur during the American Revolution. As an infant, Fin Button had the misfortune of being the thirteenth girl born to a father that wanted and expected his first boy. So he assigned her to a Georgia orphanage where she is raised by a cast of interesting characters.
Phineas Michael Button’s name isn’t the only thing about her that is androgynous. In fact, androgynous may be a word that is too charitable. There is little about Fin Button that is overtly feminine, at least in the classic sense. She is irascible, rebellious, and opinionated, with an appearance and bearing closer to a man, notwithstanding her smallish size. Despite her petulant nature, we detect something good and honorable within her and Fin’s waspish behavior at the orphanage proves to be good training for that which comes later in her life.
One doesn’t usually associate humor with historical fiction, but The Fiddler’s Gun contains hilarious situational comedy. It’s rare to laugh out loud when reading, even when something is genuinely funny, but I often found myself laughing aloud at the absurd, outlandish drollery of Fin Button. (Like the time she fills Sister Hilde’s shoes with cow dung.) We laugh in the same way a grandparent might; the responsibility of discipline rests with another, so we can cackle without consequence.
One character that is particularly well developed is Sister Hilde, the head of the orphanage. Peterson spends a fair bit of time describing this self-righteous woman’s nose, which seems to have a personality all its own. It’s a nose that is perfectly at home on her face. Fin relishes the opportunity to pop the balloon of Sister Hilde’s often questionable plans and policies and conversely, Sister Hilde seems to have developed a personal vendetta against Ms. Button and takes every opportunity to prove it.
Sister Hilde is Fin’s polar opposite. In Fin we see a person whose behavior is sometimes bad, but who’s heart seems like something closer to good. In Sister Hilde, we discern someone whose behavior is apparently good, but whose heart we often question. Sister Hilde will fool many with her pious, self-righteous demeanor, but careful observers will sense something more poisonous under her skin. It may be unfair to call her bad; maybe misguided is a better word.
Brother Bartimaeus, the kindly cook, is a plain-spoken man who harbors secrets from a shady past. Brother Bart long ago found redemption, which finds expression in the way he lives his life and the lovely music he plays on his fiddle. If The Fiddler’s Gun, were a film, Brother Bart would be off-screen much of the time. Still, his influence on Fin extends much deeper than his “screen time.” To Fin, he becomes a father figure, spiritual mentor, and guidance counselor all rolled up into one. Even when he’s not referenced, we sense he is looking over Fin’s shoulder.
The tension is multiplied when the American War of Independence begins to smolder. 9/11 notwithstanding, it’s been a long time since Americans have experienced the physical presence of the enemy in our own backyard. Peterson’s novel is a reminder of how terrifying such a situation might be.
Like all historical fiction, The Fiddler’s Gun, is based on elements of true life and real people. For example, it may be said that Fin Button resembles the historical person, Nancy Hart (also known as The Georgia War Woman). Much of Ms. Hart’s real life is hard to separate from legend and folklore, which makes it perfect as a model for a primary character in historical fiction. The author can take what is known and speculated, and use his imagination to run with it. And run Peterson does. He carries us vicariously on a mad dash of high adventure, an obstacle course of pirate ships, mutiny, bloody battles, and Red Coats hidden in the shadows.
A.S. Peterson is the older brother of recording artist/author/storyteller Andrew Peterson. It’s unfair to A.S. “Pete” Peterson, but for context and informational purposes, it must be noted. Younger brother, Andrew Peterson, has earned a reputation for top shelf, quality work which might seem to set an unfair precedent for his older brother. But this reference is not offered only for the reader’s information, but also to make it known that the elder Peterson shares his brother’s attention to detail, gift with words, and appreciation for beauty. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if you enjoy Andrew Peterson’s work, there’s high probability that you will appreciate the work of A.S. Peterson too.
Fans of The Fiddler’s Gun will be delighted to know that there is a sequel on the way. The Fiddler’s Gun is the first of two books, concluding with the forthcoming Fiddler’s Green. Initially, The Fiddler’s Gun is exclusively available right here in the Rabbit Room but there’s an audiobook and a Kindle ebook on the way as well.
It’s clear that A.S. Peterson has the writer’s gift. His prose is carefully crafted, with painstaking attention to detail. On the other hand, as I read The Fiddler’s Gun I wasn’t pondering the intricacies of his well-crafted fiction–I had my hands full thinking about the characters, the story, and considering what might come next. And after all is said and read, isn’t that one of the best compliments one can give an author?