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Review: The Smoke: New York

The Smoke: New York audiobook cover. An autumnal forest scene. The Smoke: New York by Lars D.H. Hedbor.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 4 hrs 54 mins.
Publisher: Brief Candle Press.

The Smoke: Tales From a Revolution - New York by Lars D. H. Hedbor is another fascinating glimpse into America's history from a lesser-told perspective that educates and entertains.

Audible Summary: "As the quiet cycle of life in the forested realm of the Skarure is shattered by the outbreak of war between the British and Colonial forces, the old alliances of the Haudenosaunee Confederation are pulled in divergent directions, pitting brother against brother, even within the clans.

Thrust into the middle of this maelstrom, young Joseph Killeen will rely upon the guidance of an unexpected community to decide not only what is right and wrong, but ultimately, who he even is. 

©2013 Lars D. H. Hedbor (P)2020 Lars D. H. Hedbor."

Content Warning: This story contains a depiction of maternal mortality and child-loss.

I have enjoyed the previous audiobooks in Hedbor's series, The Freedman and The Tree, and was keen to revisit the series to learn a little more about the period. In this tale from the Revolution, we glimpse the impact of the fighting on the Native American peoples. 

Once again, I was glad that Hedbor did not make this a novel in which things are black and white, with a 'right' side and a 'wrong' one, and most specifically that he did not pit the indigenous population as a whole against the Rebels. Allowing for a more nuanced story, in which the local tribes become embroiled in the affairs of both sides, is important in ensuring that their tale does not generalise or dismiss any of the characters as part of a broad, homogenised group. Neither the soldiers nor the tribesmen are one-dimensional, with each capable of as much harm as joy as they fight to secure the future of their kin. Ultimately, The Smoke challenges the ways those men classify 'kin' and proves that even those from very different worlds can become brothers in arms. 

One quote in particular sums up the general theme of the book when someone says, “They are but people, whose ways are strange to us, without a doubt, but they laugh, love and lose just as we do.”

As with many of the other audiobooks in the Tales From a Revolution series, I knew very little about this period from the American perspective and even less about the effect the War had upon the Native Americans, whose communities had been decimated by the settlers' conflicts before. The fear of further reprisals, more bloodshed, and an understanding that the 'pale men' would not "grind themselves to dust" as they clashed against one another, ultimately led the Tuscarora to defy the position of the Iroquois council, shattering the peace between tribes and pitting the clans against themselves as they struggled to survive the white men's vicious war. We see it through the experiences of Native American Ginawo and Confederacy soldier Joseph, who joins with the tribesmen and learns more about their culture and the impact his countrymen have had on the native people's lives. As conflict rages all around him and he struggles to decide which world he belongs in and where he loyalties now lie, Ginawo's greatest battle is faced much closer to home.

Hedbor did well to capture a sense of the domestic lives away from the conflict, and introduced enough of the Native American way of life to explore their culture without it feeling voyeuristic or exploitative. There was a very good depiction of a difficult pregnancy, which was emotive and candid; not only in the risks for the woman and child, but the turmoil endured by the husband. When one of the women was in labour, the elder woman took her partner aside to remind him: "You can do nothing, but must only stand aside and watch your beloved fight the bad spirits that would take her, with no help from you." The helplessness of the mother, the father, and the midwife in these scenes was palpable.

Though I struggle to connect with this story as easily as I did with The Freedman, it was still an interesting and valuable insight into the struggles of people whose stories are so often lost in the romanticised tales of rebellion told by those who became the ultimate victors of the war.
The narrator, Shamaan Casey, did another great job with this audiobook. I love the depth and resonance to his voice, which gives the stories a gravitas that helps the historical setting feel as though it is telling the true stories of the characters we meet in Hedbor's novels. His performance always holds my attention and is quite relaxing to listen to, even when he is describing some of the Revolution's hardest times.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories from the Revolutionary era, or those - like me - who are looking for a gentle introduction to the times that covers the many facets of the war and its impact, without specific bias.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in the hope of an honest, unbiased review.

Though each of the books can be listened to as a standalone story, the titles in Lars D. H. Hedbor's Tales From a Revolution series, in order, are:

Book 1 - The Prize: Tales From a Revolution - Vermont (not yet in audio).
Book 2 - The Light: Tales From a Revolution - New Jersey.
Book 4 - The Declaration: Tales From a Revolution - South Carolina.
Book 5 - The Break: Tales From a Revolution - Nova-Scotia (not yet in audio).
Book 6 - The Wind: Tales From a Revolution - West-Florida.
Book 7 - The Darkness: Tales From a Revolution - Maine (not yet in audio).
Book 8 - The Path: Tales From a Revolution - Rhode-Island (not yet in audio).

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