Blades of Freedom: A Tale of Haiti, Napoleon, and the Louisiana Purchase, Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale #10 by Nathan Hale, 127 pp, RL 5


Blades of Freedom: A Tale of Haiti, Napoleon, 

and the Louisiana Purchase

 Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale #10

by Nathan Hale

Review Copy from Abrams Kids

Blades of Freedom is the 10th (TENTH!!) book in this series and, as I say every time I review a book from this series, as a person who would rather read historical fiction than straight up history, Hale does a phenomenal job making history not just readable, but truly appealing. Beyond that, Hale is noticeably thoughtful about the history he shares with readers in an effort to lean away a Eurocentric, male perspective. With One Dead Spy, published in 2012, Hale made it clear that he wanted to find new ways in to American history. With Blades of Freedom, Hale weaves together many threads to tell the story of how the Republic of Haiti, the first country in the Americas to end enslavement, was born and its direct connection to Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase. Many threads are needed to tell this complex story, and Hale's ability to make the many connections clear while also telling a concise story (in words AND pictures) is admirable. That said, there is A LOT going on and readers should take their time and read more than once, something they will probably so as these events in history are so amazing.

Hale's device of using the historical figure of Nathan Hale (about to be hung for treason by a Provost and a Hangman) as a guide to historical events in American history allows for helpful commentary and context. The Hangman and Provost are frequently comedic relief from what are often intense, violent moments. With Blades of Freedom, Hale (again) adds Bill Richmond, a very welcome BIPOC to this narrative lineup.* Author Hale also makes some narrative shifts in this book that I especially appreciated, like the moment when Hale is told by Toussaint L'Overture, "Let me tell my own story."

Hale uses the device of the "Louisiana Purchase Wheel of History" slot-machine to keep the many threads of the story straight and shift from one thread to another over the course of the graphic novel. From Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito that carried yellow fever to new lands with the transatlantic trade of enslaved peoples, and the birth of the Vodou religion to François Mackandal and and Jean-Jacques Dessaline, Hale brings together the various figures and forces that drove the revolution of enslaved people. This revolution resulted in the creation of of a nation that was both free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and formerly enslaved people. 

One of those forces was Napoleon Bonaparte, and Hale follows him from his birth through his education and military career. Receiving almost as much page time is Napoleon's sister, Pauline, who was sent to Saint-Domingue with her her husband, General Leclerc, and son (who, as godfather, Napoleon took the responsibility of naming Dermide - DERMIDE???). Napoleon had planned to send his troops on from Saint-Domingue to conquer North American, but the loss of 60,000 soldiers during the revolution made that an impossibility, leading him to decide to sell the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson.

As always, Hale ends with fascinating extras and information about what happened to key players, including the yellow fever-carrying mosquito and Pauline, who went on to marry Prince Camillo Borghese and the marble bathtub that Napoleon was in when he signed the Louisiana Purchase. And, of course, the Research Babies (and bibliography) are there to grouse and demand better working conditions (they had to "make this book during the PANDEMIC OF 2020!").

*Series Details: First appearing in Book 2, Big Bad Ironclad, and returning in book 9, Major Impossible: A Grand Canyon Tale, Bill Richmond, was an enslaved man born on Staten Island in 1763. As a thirteen-year-old, he is believed to have assisted in Hale's execution. Author Hale shares all these details in Book 2, where some of Bill's future is revealed to him by Hale - after the Provost claims that Nathan Hale "only sees important things - things that make history!" Asked to prove himself, Bill punches the Hangman  square in the face, then climbs the tree to secure the noose, not to be seen again for seven books. Lord Percy, the Duke of Northumberland, took Richmond with him when he returned to England in 1777, later making him a free man and sending him to school in York. A trained craftsman, Richmond ended up working as a body guard for a notorious Lord who introduced Bill to London's bareknuckle boxing scene. Richmond eventually opened his own gym where he trained freed slaves and Lord Byron. In another interesting side note, the duke, born Hugh Smithson, was the father to an illegitimate son, James Smithson. Smithson had no children, making his nephew his heir. When his nephew died without an heir, Smithson's estate ($500,000 then, over $14,000.000 today), as his will stated, was to be used to "found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."


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