The Sword and Scabbard is the name of the tavern run by Nicholas Gray on behalf of the widow, and Nicholas’ sometime lover, Maggie Magowan in 1770 Boston. Nicholas has a secretive past – a man on the run since fleeing the British navy after the accidental murder of an officer – Nicholas works for Maggie by day while doing some thieving at night. Nicholas finds more than his fair share of trouble, playing both sides against each other to stay out of the conflict and line his own pockets. Nicholas is a man with few real loyalties except to those who, like himself, reside on the outskirts of society, neither fully respectable nor fully criminal.
Nicholas is an opportunist, a man mainly interested in skirting the law for his own benefit, always staying only steps ahead of trouble. I found Nicholas to be rather hard to like. He steals, fights, and kills to maintain his own interests, but he doesn’t support any real cause other than saving his own neck and Maggie’s. All good anti-heroes have something that makes them sympathetic, but it’s hard to root for someone who is out only for himself.
The book reads as a series of gambits run by Nicholas and his gang, but their schemes never seem to build much steam. I didn’t feel suspense building across the story arc. The prose is heavy on explanation and weighs down the narrative and pacing. Nicholas’ past is alluded to many times throughout the early pages of the book, but it takes quite awhile before we learn the particulars that haunt his dreams. I also found the historical events to be very peripheral to the central storyline, which was disappointing. The history happens primarily “off stage” while Nicholas and his cronies work the system to avoid the customs agents.
The backstory of thieving and intrigue behind the scenes in pre-Revolutionary War Boston is quite interesting, but the story is not set up in a way to capitalize on that. By the time Nicholas directly participates in the historical conflict, you are in the last pages of the book. Historical figures are mentioned obliquely, but Nicholas never interacts with them in any meaningful way. If Nicholas played a more active part in history – either participating in it or witnessing it – and the narrative was trimmed to enhance the pacing, I think this book would be much stronger.
Amazon link is here.