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The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss
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The Whiskey Rebels (2008)

by David Liss

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Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
Whiskey Rebels is a historical fiction novel set in the late 1700’s, after the Revolutionary War. I don’t normally read much historical fiction, unless it has some sort of science fiction or fantasy element to it, but I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I don’t know the history from this time period very well, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but it came across as being plausible and consistent with what little I do know. Although there are real historical characters in the book, they are not the main characters. The story alternates between the first person perspectives of two fictional characters: Ethan Saunders and Joan Maycott.

Ethan Saunders was a spy for America during the war but he was falsely accused of treason and so he is in disgrace. At the beginning of the story he spends most of his time drinking, racking up debt, and getting himself into trouble. He lies easily and he only keeps his word if it’s convenient. He is, in general, quite a scoundrel and the type of character who would normally annoy me to no end because he creates many of his own problems. However, he is really funny. Reading from his perspective was amusing because he often had a rather deluded view of himself and of people’s reaction to him. Despite this, the author somehow managed to clearly convey when Ethan’s account of matters was accurate and when he was deluding himself. Ethan’s sarcasm is also funny. He stumbles upon a plot to destroy the Bank of the United States, a project of Alexander Hamilton, and he dusts off his spying skills and tries to learn what’s going on. Ethan’s perspective was the one I enjoyed reading the most and I chuckled quite a bit during his parts.

Joan Maycott's story starts a little further in the past than Ethan’s. She starts off as a young, idealistic girl with ambitions to write an American novel. Early on in the story, she gets married and moves west with her husband. It’s difficult to explain her part in the story without spoiling anything, but she and her husband are presented with a lot of challenges in life and Joan becomes quite determined to do something about the various injustices they endure. Her path eventually crosses with Ethan’s. There comes a point in the story where, since her part of the story is slightly behind Ethan’s, we get to see some events from both perspectives. First we see them through Ethan’s perspective, and then later we see them through Joan’s and gain a better understand of what was really happening. The two timelines converged at around the 80% mark.

I enjoyed Joan’s part of the story, but not quite as much as I enjoyed Ethan’s. Her story was much less humorous and had more drama. Joan was smart and had a knack for figuring things out. She came up with clever ways to manipulate situations to bring about desired events. Because of her apparent intelligence, I found myself particularly frustrated with the way she handled some things. She reacted to the immediate situation and didn’t consider the long-term consequences of her actions, nor did she fully investigate things to make sure she had all of the facts. She also had a tendency to be manipulative and she used people to accomplish her vision of the greater good without much concern for the negative effect it might have on those people she used. Although she seemed at first like the more moral and likeable character of the two, I found that I liked her less as the story went on.

The story had a mystery element to it and it was interesting to try to keep track of all the different players and figure out where they fit into events. There were some connections I failed to make on my own and, after they were revealed, I was mentally smacking myself in the head because I knew I should have seen them on my own. However, there were a few times when characters seemed to understand or intuitively realize things without any realistic explanation. I was also pulled out of the story a few times when characters who hadn’t really spent that much time around each other managed to act perfectly in sync without discussing their plan in advance.

Overall, the story held my interest very well. There were a few moments when I felt like the story was starting to drag, but it always picked back up shortly thereafter. I thought the ending was satisfying. All of my open questions were wrapped up, and I was given a general idea about how things turned out for both Ethan and Joan. ( )
  YouKneeK | Dec 6, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
If you enjoy well researched historical novels, this one is for you. The storyline centers around the real life events of the 1790s and features historical figures such as Washington, Hamilton and Burr. The plot contains many intricate twists and turns that are rewarding for the reader. Highly recommend. ( )
  ficmuse | Mar 19, 2014 |
Joan Maycott's story begins in the summer of 1781 and Ethan Saunders story begins in 1792. In 1791 their stories begin to collide and these two people, both of whom love their country, find themselves on opposite sides in a struggle for the country as Alexander Hamilton seeks to establish a firm banking system.

There is lots (over 500 pages worth) of love, betrayal, suspense and even murder.

David Liss has written four other books that I have enjoyed and this one makes the fifth. He has a wonderful way of making a historical novel seem as if you were there. ( )
  mysterymax | Jan 5, 2014 |
I was thoroughly enjoying this book and then the ending left me flat. Too much violence and a sense of futility. ( )
  Your_local_coyote | Dec 29, 2013 |
I had a hard time getting into this one, but after I did, I enjoyed the main characters. Ethan and Joan are fully-developed people with complex motivations and consistent traits who nonetheless evolve in some surprising ways. Their gradual transformations throughout the book were my favorite parts.

I found the discussions of economics and finance tedious and confusing. There were so many complex plots and double agents, some of whom only appeared occasionally, that I had a hard time keeping track. I also didn't really like the way the western frontier was portrayed, though I may be biased as a loyal Pittsburgher who doesn't like to see my homeland disparaged. I expected the book to follow the adventures of the frontiersmen making the whiskey and carving out a living in the woods, not the trades of speculators sitting in Philadelphia coffeehouses.

Still, a detailed and lively portrayal of the early days of our nation, complete with strong main characters and an adequate supporting cast. ( )
  readrunandrepeat | Apr 3, 2013 |
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For Elinor and Simon.
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It was rainy and cold outside, miserable weather, and though I had not left my boardinghouse determined to die, things were now different.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
David Liss’s bestselling historical thrillers, including A Conspiracy of Paper and The Coffee Trader, have been called remarkable and rousing: the perfect combination of scrupulous research and breathless excitement. Now Liss delivers his best novel yet in an entirely new setting–America in the years after the Revolution, an unstable nation where desperate schemers vie for wealth, power, and a chance to shape a country’s destiny.

Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, now lives in disgrace, haunting the taverns of Philadelphia. An accusation of treason has long since cost him his reputation and his beloved fiancée, Cynthia Pearson, but at his most desperate moment he is recruited for an unlikely task–finding Cynthia’s missing husband. To help her, Saunders must serve his old enemy, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival Thomas Jefferson over the fragile young nation’s first real financial institution: the Bank of the United States.
Meanwhile, Joan Maycott is a young woman married to another Revolutionary War veteran. With the new states unable to support their ex-soldiers, the Maycotts make a desperate gamble: trade the chance of future payment for the hope of a better life on the western Pennsylvania frontier. There, amid hardship and deprivation, they find unlikely friendship and a chance for prosperity with a new method of distilling whiskey. But on an isolated frontier, whiskey is more than a drink; it is currency and power, and the Maycotts’ success attracts the brutal attention of men in Hamilton’s orbit, men who threaten to destroy all Joan holds dear.

As their causes intertwine, Joan and Saunders–both patriots in their own way–find themselves on opposing sides of a daring scheme that will forever change their lives and their new country.
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Ethan Saunders, a former spy for George Washington, is recruited by Alexander Hamilton to find his ex-fiancee's missing husband. Meanwhile, Joan Maycott and her veteran husband, amid hardship and deprivation on the western Pennsylvania frontier, find unlikely friendship and a chance for prosperity with a new method of distilling whiskey. The Maycotts' success however attracts the brutal attention of men in Hamilton's orbit, men who threaten to destroy all Joan holds dear. As their causes intertwine, Joan and Saunders--both patriots in their own way--find themselves on opposing sides of a daring scheme that will forever change their lives and their new country.… (more)

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