Like so much of the nation, the Hamilton: An American Musical soundtrack dominates my playlists. Working from home means music often fills the space left quiet from the lack of co-workers, and I’ve listened to the Hamilton soundtrack more times than I could count.
I should be embarrassed to say I’ve learned a lot about history from the musical retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s life, but I’m too grateful to feel truly embarrassed. At least I’m learning now. Certain lyrics resonate on different days, but I often return to the simplicity of “Who Tells Your Story”:
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
History books take shape through the hands of those still living, and it’s often those who are lost who aren’t fully fleshed out, though their narratives may be just as powerful as the ones who live.
Hard to Die, a novel by Andra Watkins, tells of Theodosia Burr (yes, the daughter to whom Aaron Burr sings on Hamilton). Theodosia dies young, and Watkins gives us glimpses of her life as she imagines an afterlife in which Theodosia still lives, an afterlife in which Theodosia must complete a mission to move out of the in-between state in which she remains.
Alive but not, Theodosia has control over how she’s remembered only if she’s able to complete her mission — helping a living soul navigate a crucial crossroads in their lives. If she fails, she’ll simply fade from history’s pages, as though she’d never lived at all.
Theodosia’s mission involves Richard the handsome spy-turned-soldier who just wants to escape into normalcy. Unfortunately, leaving the spy network in which he was entrenched might not be as easy as Richard expected, even from the hallowed walls of West Point. Richard encounters someone from his past, someone with a deadly connection to Theodosia.
As each of the players circles the others, unsure of who to trust, Theodosia and Richard find themselves drawn to each other. The specter of suspicion lingers, and neither can decide how much of themselves they can reveal without endangering both of their lives.
Readers of Watkins’ other books will be pleased to see a cameo from a beloved character, and by the end of the novel, threads weave together to highlight Watkins impeccable plotting skills.
Truthfully, I’m unsure how much of Theodosia’s story comes from history’s annals and how much comes from Watkins’ fertile imagination. The story races along without demanding a history degree, and I believe Watkins’ take on the afterlife will enthrall many readers.
Read more about Hard to Die on Watkins’ author page.