Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review of Grace Triumphant by Alicia Willis


While most of my reading focuses on historical nonfiction, I do enjoy a good work of historical fiction—if I can find it. At a recent convention, Schuyler M. of Lady Bibliophile (www.ladybibliophile.blogspot.com) recommended Alicia Willis as an author of historical fiction whom I might enjoy. After looking over all titles written by Alicia Willis, I picked out her novel Grace Triumphant to begin with. Why did I choose this one over any of her others? This was set in my favorite time: the 18th century. When I had finished, I had thoroughly enjoyed the story. It follows three characters and their travels: the squalid slums of London, the high seas (and their scurvy pirates), upper-class English society, and even the English-held island of Jamaica.

The story is written as a parallel narrative between three main characters: Russell Lawrence, a captain of a merchant ship involved in the slave trade, his cabin boy Jack Dunbar, and English high-society lady Elizabeth Grey. The narrative cuts back and forth between these three and their own personal struggles, often allowing the reader to see their personalities, motivations, and thoughts in a way that the other characters cannot. To keep interest (it certainly worked for me!) the narrative will leave one character in deep trouble when it turns to another character. I enjoyed this method of storytelling, and it was accomplished extremely effectively.

Each character faces his own struggles, both internally and externally. Captain Lawrence squares off against pirates, storms, and the myriad dangers of Africa. Jack Dunbar tries desperately to survive as a cabin boy on a tightly-run slave ship. Elizabeth Grey is an English aristocrat with a kindly heart and a treacherous circle of friends.

While the external dangers are myriad, each character’s internal struggles are even harder to conquer. This book allows us to see how their struggles sometimes take place in our own lives. Captain Lawrence tries to make his living in the world and run his ship with justice. Dunbar worries about how he can be a Christian witness among the darkness of slave traders. Miss Grey must choose between standing firm on her principles or receiving love and adoration.

Historical details are generally accurate, with only two minor anachronisms I have found. 
1) The crew of the Barbados, a British merchantman, is equipped with poniards, a thin dagger developed during the Renaissance and generally used as backup in a rapier duel. These are too early (and delicate) for general shipboard use in the 1780s. 



A private of Ferguson's Corps with breechloading rifle
2) Upon seeing a breech-loading firearm in Africa, Jack Dunbar recognizes its mechanism and recalls a tavern patron who bragged about shooting American rebels at Saratoga with one. No British soldier at Saratoga (1777) carried a breechloader; however there were breechloaders at the battle of Brandywine, (also in 1777) carried by Ferguson’s corps of marksmen.  See Don Troiani's painting at https://www.facebook.com/104952196246190/photos/a.104962546245155.8895.104952196246190/884035795004489/?type=3&theater.  Furthermore, Ferguson’s corps was made up of detachments from the regular British army, as is inferred in the book. Rather than labelling this an anachronism, I am inclined to blame Dunbar’s faulty memory, or the length of time this veteran spent at the tavern before telling his story.

However, as stated above, these do not detract from the story—or its historical setting—at all. This book is filled with the 18th century, whether a mutineer dances the hempen jig or a highwayman stalks London’s high society. In addition, I must compliment the author for including yet another historical accuracy. While it would have been easy to blame the slave trade on English traders or New World planters, the role of African (or sometimes Arab) chieftains in kidnapping and selling slaves to the Europeans is laid out here as well. All three were equally guilty of furthering this abominable trade.

As Christians, we often feel that our impact on the world is negligible, if not nonexistent. I struggle with this often. But Grace Triumphant faces this problem squarely, and offers ways to overcome this feeling. Dramatizing the struggle against the English slave trade, the author demonstrates how even one ordinary person’s labors can change others. The two characters who attempt to reform their world are overtaken by events and dominated by the other characters. Yet we see how their efforts are used to help others. I won’t spoil exactly how this happens; you will have to read the book for yourself.

In conclusion: Grace Triumphant is an exciting yarn with important lessons for 21st Century Christians, particularly Christian young people. 4.5/5 stars.
 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Movie Review: Defense of New Haven

Most of my reviews begin with a summary of the movie’s storyline, a critique of historical details, and then end with my final thoughts. For the recent movie The Defense of New Haven, I will invert this order and give my final thoughts first: see this movie. This is easily one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. A good storyline, good acting, interesting special effects, and hilarious humor are all present. 5/5 stars.

Alec is a young fellow who aids an agent of the City Defense Force (CDF) to escape from the evil Raiders. The agent is captured, but passes his message (and a training manual) on to Alec, with the task of getting it to the local CDF headquarters. Alec hitches a ride on a patrol boat and arrives with the message. While at the headquarters, he receives news that the Raiders have hit another building and all its occupants have mysteriously disappeared. When he learns that the building was the orphanage where he and his little sister used to live, the war becomes personal to Alec.

He succeeds in joining the CDF and soon becomes a model student. His days are spent in target practice with powerful crossbows, boat maintenance, and reading the textbooks assigned by Winston, the local CDF chief. But the manual that Alec received from the agent is dismissed with the comment “It was alright for its time.” That manual begins to baffle Alec, as a bookmark appears in a new section of it every day.

Throughout the ongoing operations between the CDF and the Raiders, Alec plays a conspicuous and important part. His gallantry prevents a box of explosives from being detonated, which leads to an important discovery of Raider tunnels. In quest of further information, he and his friend Pete travel upriver to a shady area, where they survive a brawl at Pelican Cove.

After this, Alec concocts a plan to find out who keeps putting bookmarks in his old manual and returns to CDF barracks after stating he would like a few days of leave. Before he can observe anything, he is caught red-handed by Louise, a CDF supervisor. All appearances tend to confirm one fact: Alec is a spy. He vehemently denies it to his friend Pete, but is permanently fired from the CDF.

What next? How will Alec continue the fight? Will the Raiders succeed? Which character is the Raiders’ spy in CDF headquarters anyway? I won’t spoil any more of the story for you; instead, you will have to watch it for yourself.

The acting is done by a group of children, many of whom are double or triple-cast. Mustaches or beards keep them separate (as well as add to the humor). For example, Pete the agent, Winston the chief, and Eddie the mechanic are all played by the same actor; however, Pete sports a curly mustache, Eddie a short one, and Winston a full gray beard.

It would have been easy to float this movie on cute kids, but the producers put time into creating an engaging storyline, interesting visuals, and even some action sequences. When all four elements (story, visuals, action, and cute kids) come together, the result is a magnificent movie. I would highly recommend that you acquire a copy and watch it—as soon as possible! 5/5 stars.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close and we prepare to enter 2017, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite blog posts of this year. 


In position #5 is Unmerited: Movie Review, available at:
http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2016/09/unmerited-movie-review_26.html
The recreated Edinburgh City Guard
From facebook.com/edinburghcityguard
Unmerited is a little gem of a movie, chronicling the story of two estranged brothers who meet after the American Revolution.  Since it is free to watch on Youtube or Vimeo, I would recommend taking ten or fifteen minutes to watch it.  Its message of forgiveness and love is a powerful reminder as we enter the new year.

Next is Uniforms of Catriona from Contemporary Pictures.  This is an illustrated study of the uniforms worn by the characters, major and minor, of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel.  Did you know that the Edinburgh City Guard carried Lochaber axes and appears in the book?  Read this post at:
http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2016/10/uniforms-of-catriona-from-contemporary.html

Historical studies is my favorite subject matter to tackle, and The Flag of Banastre Tarleton's British Legion is one of the best I have written.  Analyzing that cryptic background flag in Sir Joshua Reynolds' famous painting, the case is made that this was based on an actual flag carried in the American Revolution.  Was this controversial?  You bet!  Check it out for yourself at: http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2016/04/flag-of-british-legion.html


While Defending the Legacy usually focusses on history, I do interject some modern anecdotes from time to time.  In A Tale of Two Authors, I  recount an experience which happened to me at a homeschool convention.  A businessman manning a table (like I do with Through All Ages LLC, www.ThroughAllAges.com) gets to see other business owners in a different way than the customers do.  Two authors were observed--and contrasted.  Read it at: http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-tale-of-two-authors-reflection.html

I enjoyed writing all four of the above blog posts and interacting with my readers through them.  But my favorite is one that deals with a lesson I was taught at a conference.  No lecturers or acquaintances showed it to me: instead three complete strangers were brought by God to help me learn a lesson I had been resisting.  What was it (and why is it important)?  Read it at: http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2016/09/lessons-learned-from-noah-conference.html

This post has covered my top five blog posts, but there is another one which I wrote for a friend's blog.  Why Modern Readers Should Care About History is my look at why history is important, and building a case why all people, and especially Christians, should study it.  Read it at: http://ladybibliophile.blogspot.com/2016/07/why-modern-readers-should-care-about.html

I hope that you all had a good 2016!  Did you have any favorite posts, either on here or on your own blogs?  Let me know.  As always, reader interaction is crucial for bloggers. 

 

Monday, December 19, 2016

With Truth and Grace Short Story

This is a short story which I wrote for a contest one year ago.  Because it is a Christmas story (and because it is also one of my favorite writing projects), I wanted to republish it this year.  The narrator's growth through the story is written from first-hand experience, as I went through a very similar process.

With Truth and Grace by Jordan Jachim

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.”

Isaac Watts’s carol Joy to the World had long been a favorite of mine.  But as I stood singing it in church, my mind was disturbed by a paradox.  How could these people be singing that Christ ruled the world with truth when they did not live like it?  Some of the churchgoers voted for ungodly politicians who stole money and persecuted those who followed the Bible.  Others did not interact with God’s children as they rushed out of church at the last “Amen” to watch a sports event.  The few who did remain were not interested in discussing important spiritual matters but only the latest novel they were reading.

But the thoughts passed from my mind as soon as we were dismissed from church on Sunday afternoon.  They only returned on the following Saturday evening while my sister practiced Joy to the World on the piano.  I began thinking once again about the problems I saw in the church.  First I enumerated them in a long list; then I thought about remedies.  But every remedy that entered my head required a strong leader to carry it out.  And who was better fitted to become that leader than me?  In a few months I would graduate from high school and could then move on to leading a church.  Under my leadership, it would flourish, modelling God’s uncompromising truth, and becoming a leading voice for reform in our country.  I went to bed that Saturday night, hopeful of the grand changes I would initiate.

***

I seemed to be ascending into the sky, filled with hopeful and optimistic thoughts.  The higher I climbed, the higher I wanted to climb.  Finally I reached a height where I could look down on the earth.  The orange sunset filled me with a sense of satisfaction as I contemplated the dark world below me.  How high I had come!  While I might not have attained the heights a few had reached, yet I was far above the world of darkness.  Surveying my achievement, I realized with a start that I was not alone.

“It is good to see you.”  The voice came from a woman in white with thick golden hair.  Her eyes were kind but sad as she looked at me.  “I have heard that you are discontented with your church.”

“How can I be content when they do not follow God’s ways?”

“Do you follow God’s ways?”

“I try my best, even if I sometimes fail,” I evaded.  “But the others do not.  If only I could lead them to living in God’s truth!  They need a strong leader.”

“Living in God’s truth is the desire of every true Christian.  But that desire cannot come from another person leading them.  It must come from God.”

Photo Prompt #1
“As a leader, I would be God’s instrument,” I shot back.

She sighed, and I thought it was a sigh of weariness.  “You must follow me, for I will show you something.”

Without warning, she stepped forward.  She fell towards the earth and after a few seconds of indecision, I followed.  We passed the atmosphere, and continuing our course, landed softly at the corner of Washington and Lossberg.

“That’s my church,” I said incredulously.  “Why were you sent to show me that?”

She made no answer, but opened the door and motioned for me to enter.  Attendance was smaller than I remembered and something seemed different.  Perhaps it was that no usher greeted me, or that no one smiled at me as I sat down.  Everyone’s head was down, fixed on their Bibles, and each wore a grave face.  Perhaps they were just being reverent, I mused.

But my thoughts were diverted when the minister opened a side door and walked onto the platform.  I noticed his icy blue eyes, shaded by expressive eyebrows that moved up and down to emphasize his texts.  His face was very somber, at least what was not hidden behind a black mask.  Why did he wear a mask in church?  But I had no time to ponder this since he began his sermon.

His sermon dealt with many of the same evils I had noticed in my church before.  He thundered against money-thieving politicians and unjust laws.  Next, he outlined the lack of spiritual community in his church.  When he finished, the people filed out of the door until I was the only one left.  The masked pastor came up to me and greeted me.

“I am glad that you came to our church.  And you did not run out of the door after my last prayer.”

“I want to have fellowship and be edified by our conversation.”

His face broke into a smile. “I am glad that is the case for you.  You will likely make an excellent addition to our church.  But you need a few lessons from me first.  After all, you voted for Ryan Jenkinson.”

“And why should I not?” I asked in surprise.

“His HB.5067b could strike against religious freedom in this country.”

“That bill—I read it—merely exempts churches from certain regulations pertaining to their tax-exempt status.  There wasn’t a word about more regulation for churches.”

Photo Prompt #2
“Have you read anything besides HB.5067b recently?” he asked quickly.

“I just finished Wolf’s Best Friend.  It’s a novel about a man and a wolf who become friends.”

“Reading fiction is an ungodly and pernicious pastime.  All orthodox church leaders have spoken out against it.”

“I agree that many novels should be used as fuel for bonfires, but this one was written from a Christian perspective.  It was an allegory, filled with the beauty of God’s creation.  Why,” I added, “I’ve even written several short stories to illustrate Christian truths in a—”

“All fiction is expressly designed to help the reader escape into fantasies rather than pursuing God’s kingdom.”

“What about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress?  That illustrates Christian truths and was written by an orthodox church leader.”

“If you hope to remain a part of this church,” the pastor’s eyebrows lowered, “you must not waste your time in these frivolous activities.”

“This is absurd!  You are free to share your concerns, but you are attempting to claim lordship over my conscience with your rules.  That is reserved for God alone.”

“I am not claiming lordship over your conscience.  You are.”

“No, I am not,” I fired back.  “I claim that for God alone.”

“In attacking me, you have attacked yourself.”

“How?”

Photo Prompt #3
For answer, he untied the black ribbon that fastened his mask and let it drop to the floor.

“Who am I?” he demanded.

My face froze as I contemplated the man sitting across from me.  Now that the mask was removed, there could be no doubt of his identity.

“Yes,” he said, in answer to my baffled look.  “I am you.  I follow your rules; I implement them with your zeal.  The only difference between us is that I have power!  I am in the position of church leader.  This is what you will become!”

I sank my face in my hands as the world seemed to whirl around me.  When I finally raised my face, my guide stood before me.  Of the pastor there was nothing.

“Why was I such a fool?” I groaned.  I was now anxious to make atonement for my misguided zeal and made a promise that I would never hold convictions and tell them to others.

“One cannot compromise truth for peace if one is a believer in the word of God,” she said gently.

“Then how can I share my convictions without becoming like—like what I have seen?”

“What song brought this train of thought originally?”

This was an odd question, but it shifted the current of my thoughts and I replied, “Isaac Watts’s Joy to the World.”

“Yes.  In the fourth verse, it is stated that Christ rules the world with truth and grace.  These are the two virtues you need to interact with others.  Because you believe in Christ and his word, you have truth.  But it must be shared with grace.  That is what Christ did to you before you believed in him.  He blessed you with health, life, the love of your family and friends, while telling you of his free gift of eternal life.  Follow Christ’s pattern.”

“Thank you,” I said with feeling.  “Looking at it now, I see that I needed this lesson.”

“But do not compromise the truth under a guise of ‘grace.’  For that is not grace, but a license to sin.  The apostle Paul writes well of it in the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.”

“Thank you again.”

“You needn’t thank me,” she replied.  “I am just a servant of God, as you are.  May God bless you.”

As she turned to go, she looked at me, and said with a smile, “When sharing truth, you might start by telling others of truth and grace.  Look in John chapter 1, verse 17.”

She, the church building, and finally my consciousness, slowly faded into blinding white light…

“It’s Sunday morning!  Time to get up and get ready for church!”  I heard my mother call cheerily.



So it was all a dream, I mused.  But to me, this was unlike any dream I had ever had.  The important truths and the vivid way they had been taught stayed with me.  And I realized that it had been accurate.  I had been too forceful when sharing my convictions with others.  But God in his mercy had taught me this lesson: to share truth seasoned with grace.  That was why Christ had come, so stated the Apostle John.  The law was from Moses, but Jesus had brought truth and grace when he came to earth that first Christmas day.  That Sunday morning I went to church with a new-found love of Christ’s love, determined to share it with others—with truth and grace.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Free Major John Andre Paper Soldier

I run a business called Through All Ages LLC (www.ThroughAllAges.com).  For Through All Ages, I create historical posters, postcards, and paper soldiers.  Would you like to assemble one of our paper soldiers for free?  Just visit http://www.currclick.com/product/102345/Major-John-Andre-paper-soldier to download a free paper soldier and his base.  This figure is the Adjutant-General of the British Army and spymaster Major John Andre.  His face is copied from a portrait of Major Andre, and his uniform is carefully researched.  The page also includes a short biography of Andre, as well as assembly instructions.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Michigan in the American Civil War part 3

Don’t Yield an Inch

By the end of the first day of Gettysburg (July 1), both commanders had realized that a battle was going to be fought on this ground. The Union forces were deployed in a “horseshoe” shaped formation on high ground around Gettysburg. The Confederates were determined to break through the “horseshoe.” They quickly realized that one point overlooked the Union positions: a large rocky hill known as Little Round Top. The Union generals knew that they had to send soldiers to occupy Little Round Top. A courier was sent with an order to redistribute troops to this critical spot. Colonel Strong Vincent met the courier and asked where he was going. He replied that he was going to ask General Barnes to send a brigade to occupy Little Round Top. “I will take the responsibility of taking my brigade there,” replied Colonel Vincent.

Colonel Vincent distributed the four regiments of his brigade on Little Round Top just before a heavy Confederate assault crashed against his position. Vincent’s men held their ground against one and then two heavy attacks. But another regiment of Confederates arrived and a third assault was launched—this time against the 16th Michigan, which did not contain nearly as many men as it was supposed to. Colonel Vincent knew that these men had to hold their position. He climbed on top of a boulder and shouted “Don’t yield an inch or all is lost!” Shortly after, the colonel was hit by a bullet. But the 16th held on long enough for the 140th New York to come to their assistance and secure Little Round Top.

Conclusion

The Civil War was an important era in the history of our nation. Heroes were revealed both from the Blue and the Gray. Every state sent troops to one army or the other (a few sent troops to both sides!) I chose Michigan for a number of reasons. I was born in Michigan and have lived there my entire life. But more importantly, I have at least one ancestor that served in a Michigan unit during the Civil War. His name was Joseph Stadler, and his unit was the 16th Michigan—the same 16th Michigan that held Little Round Top.

His family had emigrated from Germany in 1852. Joseph Stadler enlisted on January 27, 1864, to serve either 3 years or the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. His service included the dreadful Battle of the Wilderness, the brutal siege of Petersburg, and, ultimately, the surrender of Lee’s army. Following his honorable discharge, he served against the Indians in the 2nd United States Cavalry. His discharge papers from the 2nd U.S. Cavalry contain a short description of his character while on service: “Good conduct.”

Is not a commendation like that what we as Christians should be striving for? Yet this does not usually come by one great act. Instead it consists of many small acts—in short, doing the duty set out for you. Sometimes this daily service is more difficult than anything else. But we are looking for the commendation: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Michigan in the American Civil War--part 2




A painting of the 24th Michigan at Gettysburg by the renowned artist Don Troiani

The Iron Brigade

 

At the battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army of the Potomac was made up of soldiers from the East Coast, except for one brigade of foot soldiers from the West.  Known as the “Iron Brigade” for their determination, they comprised the 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan.  On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade bore the brunt of the Confederate attack.  The 26th North Carolina, an excellent unit (commanded by the youngest colonel in Lee’s army, and recently issued with new uniforms) attacked the 24th Michigan.  The Carolinians pushed the 24th Michigan back to McPherson’s Woods.  There the Michigan men made their stand.  The two regiments engaged in a furious firefight, shooting it out at short range.

 

The 24th Michigan finally brought the equally gallant 26th North Carolina to a standstill.  During the night of July 1-2, the Iron Brigade was withdrawn from its old position to rejoin the main Federal army.  A newspaper of the time stated: “It was to the Iron Brigade more than any other that the nation owes its salvation at Gettysburg, and we say not more than history will verify, that of all the heroic regiments which fought there, the Twenty-fourth Michigan stands preeminent for its devotion and valor.  Against the overwhelming hordes of the enemy, it stood for hours, a wall of granite, which beat back, again and again, the resolute but baffled foe.”