In the Presence of Wolves: The Adventures of Ranger Jacob Clarke by Erick Nason is a rugged and action-packed adventure.
As military history in America goes, the French and Indian War is perhaps the least discussed, but as Erick Nason so expertly depicts in his novel, In the Presence of Wolves, it was truly a fascinating time in American history. Approximately two decades before the Revolutionary War broke out, America had a very different battle to fight – one against the French and their Indian compatriots. This novel is set in the lush upper forests of New York, where a great deal of the most brutal, guerrilla-style fighting took place.
The story follows the exploits and adventures of Jacob Clarke, an American Ranger, along with his company, which is headed by Robert Rogers. These two men play crucial roles in this novel, and as leading protagonists, they drive the excitement and energy for readers. They are working to fight back the tide of Frenchmen, a mission that takes readers on a stunning journey through military history, and the beautiful landscape of that region. Nason clearly did his research on the area, as the descriptions are incredibly detailed and the many historical references make this fictional tale seem highly authentic.
As with any military-themed book, there is the danger of repetition – battle after battle, the banality of days marching in between, etc. – but the author keeps everything fresh, using his powers of description and a cast of peripheral characters to make readers legitimately care about the outcome of the war. The narrative draws readers deeper in, engaging them and making them invest in the fate of this eccentric and amusing crew of patriots. Samuel, Patrick, Konkapot and the other members of this rag-tag group of men grow to heroic proportions by the end of the novel, which is a sign of great storytelling.
Despite the adherence to historical fact, there are many universal themes discussed in the story as well, such as the loneliness of wartime and the painful loss of beloved brothers in arms. This book serves two purposes: explaining an important part of American history in an enjoyable way, and pulling back the curtain on the emotional and psychological toll that being a soldier has in every era.
The author’s personal knowledge of the region lends a great deal of credibility to the story, as does his decorated military career. Both of these factors are apparent in the writing, and they also make him one of the best people to write this story. Caring about a subject is crucial, and the attention to detail shown here is impossible to miss. Erick Nason’s writing isn’t overly flowery, but it is highly expressive, almost Hemingway-esque in its stark depictions of brutal battles. This detached, yet intimate style is unique in military writing, unless it’s being written by a significant talent.
In the Presence of Wolves is apparently the first in a longer series, and with this first book as a foundation, the rest of the series could be something very special.