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Lone Crusader: A Review

One encouraging, relatively recent development on the Right has been an increasing interest in the arts. Though there's still a journey of a thousand miles ahead of us on the way to being particularly cultured as a group, we have at least taken the first steps, and over the past year and a half or so it's become more common for blogs to feature art and literature, and for people to ask about recommended reading. Part of this may be a reaction to constantly telling Leftist Harry Potter fans to "READ ANOTHER BOOK," but the general trend goes back prior to that meme occurring near the end of the 2016 elections.

What we still don't see much of, though, is creating original work, and one can see why fairly easily. Many Reactionaries have professional or academic backgrounds in fields as diverse as engineering, history, philosophy, and the natural sciences, but I know of few with any training in the arts. In fact, anyone with even broadly Conservative inclinations typically avoids the almost monolithically Leftist art world. Then, even if one does have some knowledge of the arts, that's still a different skill set than creating art. There are, however, a few welcome exceptions. One of these is Samuel Stevens, author of several short stories and two novels, most recently Lone Crusader, published last October.

Lone Crusader takes place in 1937, and follows American college student Adam Wolfe as he travels to Spain to fight in that country's civil war on the Nationalist side, thinking he's going to defend the Church from Republican atrocities. From this setup, one might expect a straightforward war novel, and it is to some extent, but Wolfe isn't really a soldier for very long. While in Portugal on the way to Spain, he takes a job from someone who appears to be a secret policeman working against Communists, but as far as Wolfe can tell may as well belong to the mafia. This sets a tone for much of the rest of the novel, and it's at least as much a spy novel as anything else, particularly after the introduction of the second major character, FBI agent Mike Barnes who'd formerly done work for the mob himself. Even what we do see of the actual war is portrayed so that it resembles a gang war as much as an organized battle between two formal armies.

Now, someone with Right-wing sympathies writing about the Spanish Civil War could easily fall into the trap of making a wish-fulfilment novel, but Stevens completely avoids that. Adam Wolfe is unsociable, tends to overthink things, and is a bit socially awkward, especially around women. Early in the novel, for example, a couple college friends invite him to a party, which he goes to only reluctantly, and a girl, Candice, comes with him. As he sits down not talking to anyone, a jazz band starts playing, and Candice comes over to him:

"How about we dance? Everyone's doing it."

He hated that turn of phrase as if people were something to find an example of morality in. "No thanks, I think I'll just sit and listen."

She tugged at his arm. "Come on, come on," she said. "Don't you want to dance with a pretty girl?"

He could not decide if alcohol made her talk like a movie character or if she was just like that normally. She kept pulling at his arm, and he did not want to make a scene with her. He got up, and she led him down the stairs. He danced poorly, stepping on her toes every few minutes.

Without giving too much away, Wolfe does grow and change as a character over the course of the story, but by no means are these changes all for the better. As for the war itself, though the Nationalists are treated as more-or-less the "good guys," they aren't portrayed as particularly noble, either, and even Wolfe's one friend among his platoon is ruthless when dealing with an enemy, or even just a possible enemy.

The book's "About the Author" section lists Ernest Hemingway as one of Stevens' influences, and one can certainly tell. It has a somewhat minimalist approach to description and storytelling. For example, shortly after Wolfe does join up with a Nationalist platoon, he gives a brief, straightforward description of the scene after a day's work:

Wolfe sat alone with the soldiers that night. They did not trust him, as near as he could tell with his intermediate Spanish. His college lessons slowly came back to him, though. His mind seemed to adapt out of necessity. He did not blame them; he would not trust a strange ragged American either.

The platoon sat in the skeleton of a building around a fire. The fuel was furniture from the remnants of the house. They were dead looking men. Their green uniforms were soaked with sweat, and their bodies were lean from campaigning and hard times before the war. They smoked and played cards. They also laughed at intervals, but Wolfe could only make out parts of the jokes.

One of the soldiers next to him took out a pack of cigarettes. He nodded to Wolfe. "You want one?" he asked in Spanish.

Wolfe shook his head. "I don't," he said.

The soldier snorted. "Your loss," he said, passing them around to the others in the circle. They talked to each other. Wolfe sat and listened.

Stevens' writing is a little too sparse for me, but that's a matter of personal preference. Also, the plot moves along at a breathless pace, which those looking for a page-turner will appreciate, though some scene changes were a bit abrupt. There's not much sense of place in this novel, and at times it feels as though Stevens is in a rush to move the plot along.

There is one flaw that I hesitate to bring up, partly because it can seem petty and partly because it relates to the edition and not the novel itself, but the quality of this book's copy editing is halfway between "cheap paperback" and "debut at FanFiction.net." The author did at least run it through a spell checker, but misplaced punctuation, missing words, and wrong word choices, like "tossed it Wolfe" instead of "tossed it to Wolfe," or "got to your art galleries" instead of "go to your art galleries," abound to the extent that it disrupts the flow of reading.

Now, as good as it is to support and encourage writers and artists on the Right, we're ultimately looking for good art, so I wouldn't ask anyone to spend time on a novel if it's not actually worth reading. Besides, most of the books one reads should be old. With that in mind, is Lone Crusader worthwhile? C. S. Lewis famously recommended, "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." Setting aside the lack of polish in editing and story pacing, it is a solid choice for one of the new books you read in between the classics.

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