Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

I’m a fan of Nick Arvin.  I have enjoyed his work including Articles of War and The Reconstructionist and have been lucky enough to have him do some Q&A’s for the site (see here and here).  So I was excited to learn he had a new novel coming out this month and was able to get a review copy from NetGalley.

Mad Boy, which was released on Tuesday, is a wild, at times hilarious, at times touching, romp set during the War of 1812. The central character, Henry Phipps, is great.  Despite possibly being “mad” he has a fierce determination but also a sense of duty and loyalty that carries him through some very difficult circumstances.  But he is also obviously a boy; unlike some fiction where the child acts and thinks in ways that are not particularly childlike. The are also many intriguing secondary characters that Henry interacts with along his journey; his mother (dead and alive), his addiction prone father whose luck is always just about to turn, his honor bound brother, an avaricious and traitorous Redcoat, and the wealthy and brutal man who may be his real father.

In the setting and dialog Arvin transport you to a different world. Redcoats and Bluecoats face off, slaves seek their freedom, looters and pirates hope to take advantage of the chaos of war, while many people are trying to survive. Henry just wants to honor his mother’s wishes but doing so, with her voice still in his head, is far from easy.

I found Mad Boy to be a very different book than Arvin’s previous work, but a creative and entertaining one for sure.


Mad Boy Book Cover Mad Boy
Nick Arvin
Europa Editions
June 12, 2018

Mad Boy is a rollicking, picaresque novel about family and perseverance set during America's "forgotten war" of 1812.

Young Henry Phipps is on a quest to realize his dying mother's last wish: to be buried at sea, surrounded by her family. Not an easy task considering Henry's ne'er-do-well father is in debtor's prison and his comically earnest older brother is busy fighting the red coats on the battlefields of Maryland. But Henry's stubborn determination knows no bounds. As he dodges the cannon fire of clashing armies and picks among the ruins of a burning capital he meets looters, British defectors, renegade slaves, a pregnant maiden in distress, and scoundrels of all types.

Mad Boy is at once an antic adventure and a thoroughly convincing work of historical fiction that recreates a young nation's first truly international conflict and a key moment in the history of the emancipation of African-American slaves.

Entertaining, atmospheric, and touching,Mad Boy will transport readers with its cast of vivid characters, its masterful storytelling, and its poignant tale of a young man burdened by an outsized undertaking.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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