I want to commend a book to you that’s very, very much worth the read: The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. (Pete) Peterson. As kind of a self-proclaimed amateur appreciator of swashbuckling adventure stories, I was hoping I’d find a book with an awesome plot like this. It’s historical fiction, with equal parts American Revolution and piracy, and it’s writing is just about flawless as far as I could tell. The main character Fin (Phinea) Button is lovable but conflicted, realistic and complex. She’s also an orphan, and the book deals with some of those resulting struggles; this kind of thing is especially dear to our family since we finalized the adoption of our two oldest kids almost a year ago. Orphan care is a powerful and grand theme to explore. But, this is only a small part of why this book is so great.
Peterson is a Christian, but I wouldn’t put his book in any genre of “Christian fiction.” What I mean by that is, he doesn’t force his story to preach to the reader in an obvious way that constrains the plot. The Fiddler’s Gun is about the story and the characters first, not about getting a message preached. But don’t get me wrong, you do get a rich sense of the author’s worldview as you read; he just doesn’t sacrifice the story in the process. Peterson doesn’t hide anything, but builds up more I suppose, to the payoff when characters do bring up God, Christ, or redemption from sin. Those moments are very good, and natural when they do come along.
There are some Christian characters in the story (George Whitefield even makes an appearance), but like real life, the characters will surprise you. Sometimes the Christians behave in an unseemly way, and sometimes the unbelievers in the book put the Christians to shame with their kindness and joyfulness. The characters wrestle through some difficult problems, Fin especially, and there aren’t easy fixes to many of these problems in the story. Life is complicated, and very difficult. The story makes you feel the weight of this along with the characters, and it’s easy to care deeply for them as they fight for joy and seek salvation in a very broken world. The story doesn’t pull punches on the painful stuff, and I think that’s very good; stories shouldn’t treat their readers with kid gloves. We are no better off for closing our eyes to pain and darkness, since we live in a fundamentally broken world that’s not how it should be (yet). Again, I didn’t expect many of the turns the plot took, and I think I’m the better for it. Fiddler’s Gun really got in, made me think, and made me feel deeply for its very real characters.
It’s commonly said about Tolkien that his stories are glorious because they invest our own world with beauty and wonder, rather than trying to take us out of our world and into fantasy. Middle-earth is filled with good food and drink, warm fires and laughter. And we return from Tolkien’s stories with renewed sensitivity to the goodness and warmth, and struggle and tension, in our own world which is part of God’s great Story. Every so often you run into other stories that accomplish some of this too, and Fiddler’s Gun is one for me – it’s no surprise that Peterson is a big fan of Tolkien and Lewis and their like. I came away from the book super anxious to continue with the 2nd part of Fin’s story, The Fiddler’s Green, but also freshly awake to the fight for joy in my own life. Fin pushes back against the darkness in her life, fighting for joy in the midst of brokenness; she’s humbled by the great grace and love undeservingly given her by others; and like other good writers, Peterson makes the experiences of his characters and of his readers a common experience. You leave the book feeling like we’re all in this together.
Rather than spoil the story with summary, I thought I’d end with one quote from the book to show a little of the depth and richness of the storytelling. Here, we have a sea battle:
“Every head spun around, and for a splinter of time all was silent and still. The ship in front of them was mere feet away, its deck crowded […] An ocean swell heaved the prow of the Justice up so that in that moment it seemed they towered over the British warship, descending like a thunderbird from airy heights, talons thrust forth, wreathed in the ancient, red aura of war. For that singular second, the men aboard both vessels peered across the gulf at one another, rigid with fear and frozen by memories of home, and of women loved and children born, and of all others they might never see again. And in response they called out of the dark reaches of man’s collective nightmare that beast that stirs and quickens to violence […] Then, like a thunderclap, the ships smashed one upon the other.”