The Fairest Portion of the Globe
by Frances Hunter
(Blind Rabbit Press / 0-977-76360-9 / 978-0-977-76360-3 / February 2010 / 428 pages / $22.95 / Kindle $4.99)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
Once there was a time, at the turn of the century before the century before, when the United States was an infant country clinging to the Atlantic seaboard and just barely clawed together out of the original colonies by the stubborn valor of a handful of men. But even at that early date, twenty years after the Revolution, the far-sighted were already spilling over the Appalachians and into the unexplored wonder of those lands beyond, to the Mississippi River. Once there was a time, when having gone toe to toe with the parent nation of England, emerging victorious by the skin of their teeth, it seemed as if the United States might also take on another European power; that of Spain, which controlled the lower Mississippi. This time again, it seemed the former colonists could call on the aid of France, caught in the throes of their own revolution.
This is the dangerous political milieu in which two young Army officers meet and become firm friends, stationed at a crude frontier outpost commanded by a gouty and irascible hero of the Revolutionary War, General Anthony Wayne, nick-named by his comrades “Mad Anthony” and by his sometime Chickasaw Indian allies “The Black Snake Who Never Sleeps.” Both young William Clark and Meriwether Lewis have connections of a sort – Clark’s older brother is the hero of the Revolution in the west, George Rogers Clark, and Lewis is a neighbor and admirer of Thomas Jefferson. This is a small country – everyone knows everyone else, a circumstance that is very well drawn by the author. Both young men have a passionate interest in exploring the vast and untouched country that is just opening to the United States – but threats of war and treachery swirl around them both. George Rogers Clark is planning to redeem himself with a freelance march on Spanish-held New Orleans, aided by French funding and the reluctant assistance of naturalist Andre Michaux. And among the senior officers of Wayne’s garrison is the slippery and amoral James Wilkenson; paid agent of the Spanish, persistently undermining Wayne’s authority as commander and for what ends? As the tightly woven plot unfolds, the question of who is gaming who, and who is set on betraying who - and will they get away with it? - becomes ever more urgent. Woven into this tangle are such disparate characters as Clarke’s family, especially his sister Fanny and her brutish husband, fascinating details of the natural world, folk medicine, and military practice and custom of the time.
The Fairest Portion of the Globe is a very readable and lively portrait, not only of a period of American history which is underserved in popular fiction, but of the foundations of an enduring friendship between two young men, who within a few years would make an epic journey of exploration – a journey which like themselves, would become legend.