Sunday, April 24, 2005

Savannah, or A Gift For Mr. Lincoln

Savannah, or A Gift For Mr. Lincoln
by John Jakes

When writing reviews I usually try to put them at a length of about 500 words, give or take a few. However, upon contemplating this review of John Jakes' latest work of historical fiction, "Savannah, or a Gift for Mr. Lincoln," I think I would find it difficult to find 250 words to say about it much less 500. I anxiously await the release of any new John Jakes novel. I was slightly disappointed by "Charleston" as not meeting previous John Jakes standards, such as "The Kent Family Chronicles" or his masterwork, the "North and South" trilogy. So imagine my surprise when my slight disappointment with "Charleston" turned into extreme disappointment with "Savannah."

I can really say nothing about the plot of "Savannah" as after having read it, I remember precious little of anything that happened between its covers. I dare any John Jakes reader to say that about any of his other books. But what I do remember of the story centers around 12 year-old Hattie Lester's attempts to save her family's plantation, "Silvergrass," from the soldiers of Union General William T. Sherman, who have arrived just outside of Savannah from their march through Georgia in December of 1864.

Only half of my disappointment in "Savannah" lies at the foot of John Jakes himself. It is too simplistically written. His characters are underdeveloped and there is next to no plot. At best "Savannah" should be called a short story. It does not by any means or stretch of the imagination live up to the John Jakes works of the past, in which the writing is good, the characters fully developed, and the plotlines, though somewhat resemble modern day soap operas, are often interconnected. Indeed, "Savannah" seems to have been written for the young reader of between 10 or 12 years old, and if that is the case then Mr. Jakes can and should be forgiven.

I reserve the other half of my disappointment in "Savannah" to the publisher, Dutton. As sited above, "Savannah" is in reality a short story, and the editors of Dutton have done their best to lengthen it into a full-fledged novel, or at least something that resembles a novel.

First I'll tackle the size of this book. All of my other hard cover John Jakes books measure 9.5" x 6.5" while  Savannah comes in at a wimpy 8.5" x 6" and when placed on a shelf next to her sister John Jakes novels, she appears to be slightly out of place.

Secondly, Dutton has succeeded in lengthening "Savannah" to a novel of 288 pages, not only by the reduced size of this book as already stated, but by using a substantial font size and line spacing to give the book lots of "white space," and they also threw in a couple of illustrations for good measure as well.

Thirdly, if my theory of John Jakes writing this novel for a much younger audience is correct, I then fault the marketing department at Dutton for not marketing it as such. Even if this was marketed as a children's book many John Jakes fans, such as myself, would have purchased the book because it was a John Jakes book with the full knowledge that it was written for children and would not have been disappointed at all by it.

And lastly, Dutton further aggravated my disappointment in this book by its inflated cover price of $23.95. I refused to buy it at that price, even though it was a John Jakes book, and waited until it was 50% off to buy it at my local book store, and even then I felt like I had been robbed.

But the question is can I recommend this book. Well that's a tricky question to answer and my recommendation would depend on who was asking me. If you are a die-hard John Jakes fan who froths at the mouth at the mere mention of a new John Jakes book hitting the shelf, then yes, I would recommend it, with the reservation that the book is geared to a younger audience, and as such the characters and plots are much simpler than regular John Jakes fare. If you are 10 to 12 years old with an interest in the Civil War, I would recommend this book for you, as it seems to have been written with younger readers in mind. But if your are an avid reader of historical fiction where fully developed characters struggle to over come adversities of their time, and revel in the detail of such, no I would not recommend this book. And to the casual reader, I offer, "read it. You might like it, but don't blame me if you don't."

Okay so I did have more than 250 words to say about "Savannah." This review came in at 805 words.

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