Lucia St. Clair Robson’s historical novel, Shadow Patriots (2005) centers on one of President George Washington’s major spy operations, called The Culper Ring, out of New York City during the Revolution. The Shadow Patriots includes familiar names such as Peggy Shippen, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton. The novel also focuses on the important participation of “355”, a female spy whose real identity has to date remained shrouded in mystery. 355 was the Culper Ring’s code for “lady”. Many historians believe that the female spy died for her country.
In the novel, Kate and Seth Darby decide to take a stand in the armed conflicts in a tumultuous period. The hotheaded Seth serves his fledgling country in the army at night, while his older sister is more pragmatic and rational and pragmatic than her brother. Soon, however, circumstances force Kate to face the intrigues and temptations prowling outside her door. Over time, she becomes more impassioned and profoundly involved in the fight for the country’s independence.
Invisible ink messages, secret codes, aliases, double agents, and espionage resulted in ever greater drama and danger during the Revolution, a decisive episode in the American history. The Shadow Patriots goes beyond these. It is estimated that almost 12 thousand American troops died in British custody. Robson also includes in her novel the “prison ship martyrs”, the betrayal of West Point, the intrigue in Philadelphia, the sufferings of the winter military camp at Morristown and Valley Forge, as well as the battles of Stony Point, Monmouth, and Brooklyn. Overall, the novel creates a plausible reality for the historical figures and events and the Culper Ring. This piece of history is something that many Americans do not learn about in the classroom.
The way the historical figures and events are wrapped in with fictional characters and happenings makes Shadow Patriots very interesting. The novel makes the readers wonder whether Robson is writing fiction or historical facts. Sometimes, a statement or a gesture would cause readers to question, would that really happen in that period? Did mice really made some of the powdered wigs their home? Were the women of that period truly so earthy and bawdy, usually wearing nothing at all underneath their hoop skirts? Did Quakers really treat their black servants with warm affections and familiarity?
The author’s clear command of the subjects as a result of her extensive research efforts tells the readers that these are all precise and correct. Robson includes them in the novel because they are strange, true, and noteworthy. In addition, the author has made a name for herself in making genuine historical fiction. For one, she has a Master’s degree in Library Science, which explains her skills in research. The way the author weaves the historical figures and events with her fictional story is truly outstanding. Robson makes history come alive in Shadow Patriots. The readers learn how people spoke, dressed, and what colonial New York and Philadelphia smelled and looked. Robson’s descriptions of the setting move the narrative forward and offer the readers a quirky history lesson. For example, the American military camp at Valley Forge is luminously depicted.
One of the minor flaws of Shadow Patriots is that Robson bombards the readers with so much information in a short space. While such information are very interesting, they are overwhelming. For example, in the first 35 pages or so, the author showers the readers with many characters from history: Washington, Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan, Rob Townsend, Benjamin Tallmadge, New York mayor David Matthews, William Cunningham, Elizabeth Loring, and General William Howe.
Overall, the flaws in Robson’s Shadow Patriots are outweighed by its virtues. As lively, accurate, historical fiction, the novel succeeds, and as such, it is highly recommended to readers interested in the Revolutionary War History. However, one needs to review Revolutionary War history to appreciate the historical characters’ presence in the novel.