Historian Hoffman (Major Problems in American History, 2006) intertwines history, romance, intrigue and fun in a novel that draws readers into her fresh take on the American Civil War.
President Lincoln dispatches Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, to the court of St. James in London to make sure the British do not enter the Civil War on the side of the South. Accompanied by his son Henry, John quickly learns that wealthy financiers are having battleships built right under the noses of the British government and sending them to the South. Henry’s adventures include running into a Southern friend from college, Baxter Sams, who has fallen in love with a British woman whose family does not like Americans. As the war progresses, Baxter is torn between staying with his love and using his medical knowledge on the battlefields. Through the voices of Henry and Baxter, Hoffman articulates the depth of conflict with which many Americans approached the Civil War and the depth of divide it created between friends, families and even countries. The author’s take on the Civil War is honest, truthfully pointing toward the ambiguities and ambivalences of both sides. She challenges the common, grade-school-level view that Northerners were good and Southerners bad, inviting readers into the harsh reality of the bleak gray areas that plagued this war. At the same time, her characters are engaging and their adventures exciting, funny and heartwarming. Hoffman makes readers love them, even when they disagree with the characters’ opinions. Without this warmth to engage a reader’s heart, the story could have come across as a cold history lesson. Instead, it’s full of life, with a little history on the side.
An enjoyable read and a refreshingly honest take on a well-worn topic.