A Review – Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution

Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright,
and a Spy Saved the American Revolution.

I tend not to do a lot of book reviews that involves “stars” or “hearts” or whatever system actually assigns a number to a book. I’m all for keeping score, but reading is such a subjective thing, I hate to color anybody else’s opinion of how “good” a book might be.

Still, I can give you my opinion of the book as well as the reasons I found it a worthwhile use of several hours of time. (I tend not to make it past chapter 3 for those books that I decide aren’t a good use of my time.)

This book first made it to my “to read” list while I was researching Le Chevalier. As those of you who read my blog know, Le Chevalier was inspired by Le Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont, a 18th century French chevalier and spy who could credibly pass off as either man or a woman, depending on the need.

 Although my character, the Chevalier de Mont Trignon, has a role to play in the American Revolution, I hadn’t really thought about Beaumont’s role. As far as I was concerned, the Revolution was after his time. I was  interested in learning more about Beaumarchais, a playwright perhaps best know to modern Americans for the play The Barber of Seville. (It’s the one that the Bugs Bunny short “The Rabbit of Seville” was taken from. If you want to revisit your childhood, here’s a link to the short on YouTube.)

While Beaumont is alluded to in Le Chevalier, Beaumarchais doesn’t even enter the picture. I knew he was there, working through some of the backroom financing deals with the French, but I didn’t really know the details. Unlikely Allies does a great job of shining some light on his participation and his relationship (or not) with Beaumont.

The piece of the puzzle that really caught me by surprise was how much I learned about Silas Deane (the merchant in Unlikely Allies). Deane is also mentioned in passing in Le Chevalier:

Le Chevalier
“I am to meet General Washington in a few days,” the marquis said at last, licking a finger with a grace that made the faux pas appear acceptable.

He sipped his wine and watched pairs of dancers filter by, their hands lightly touching. “Will you come with me? Deane has granted commissions to many Frenchmen, and I am certain there would be one for you if I were to recommend you.” His dark eyes turned serious. “You know I would be happy to do so.”

I always thought of Deane as a somewhat uninteresting character, not very good at his job, and perhaps a bit shady. If Paul’s version of Deane holds more than a kernel of truth – not that I doubt his research, but history can be subjective – I realize that the poor man’s reputation suffered needlessly for more than a century. The real villains in this story are Edward Bancroft (at one time Ben Franklin’s secretary), fellow envoy to France, Arthur Lee, and the Continental Congress – not necessarily in that order.

I realize history books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m giving this one four stars. I found it engaging, informative and entertaining. There were a couple issues I had with some of the historical connections made but they were minor, and for all I know, Paul’s interpretation is far better than my own.

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