Rogers (The Laced Chameleon, 2014, etc.) tells the story of a runaway slave–turned–Buffalo Soldier in this historical novel.
When his father is gunned down during a Union raid on a Confederate supply caravan, young Isaac Rice is understandably distraught. And yet he is fascinated that the Union soldiers conducting the raid are men like him: Gullah-speaking slaves from South Carolina’s rice plantations. Inspired by their changed lots in life, Isaac knows he must join the Union cause. With newfound certainty, he tells his sweetheart back on the plantation: “I’ma run t’night.” Isaac works his way up through menial positions in the Army until after the war, when he receives a proper assignment: he is to be a member of the new 10th Cavalry Regiment of Buffalo Soldiers. This role will take him to the frontier and America’s new conflict: not one between North and South, but one for the West, where blacks, whites, Native Americans, and Mexicans are scrambling to build a future—or to hang on desperately to a fading past. Surrounding Isaac is a cast of characters that offers other perspectives on these tumultuous times: Billy Duke, a dedicated Confederate guerrilla who keeps the war going long after the South surrenders; Rachel Black, a former slave who attains an education and battles her way to Mississippi’s postwar Constitutional Convention; Ortega, an Apache warrior who wants nothing more than to drive the whites away from his land; and Alejandra Luna, a Mexican exile seeking a new life and medical career in the United States. Rogers shrewdly balances the multiple points of view and is not afraid to complicate the reader’s understandings of the ways in which race and gender functioned during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Thoroughly researched and studded with historical cameos—both famous and obscure—the novel succeeds in its attempt to paint an accurate picture of the period. While the author’s desire to cram in as much history as possible sometimes exacts a toll on the story’s momentum and character development, the book as a whole is an impressive feat of historical fiction, offering many traditionally underrepresented perspectives in a sprawling work of love and warfare.
An ambitious and lush tale set during the Civil War and Reconstruction.