Set during the Civil War, this gender-bending novel focuses on two sisters who disguise themselves as men and join the Confederate States Army—and it’s written by two sisters.
Just a month or so after Libby Beale marries Arden Tanner, the Civil War breaks out. Arden is killed at Sharpsburg, and Libby and her older sister, Josephine, scour the battlefield to find his body. Anguished and irate, Libby vows to get revenge against the North by killing a Yankee soldier for each year of her husband’s life—21 in all. In 1862, the South is not overly scrupulous about the quality of its soldiers—if they have a rifle and are breathing, they tend to be accepted into the army—so the women have no problem joining Arden's old company, the Stonewall Jackson brigade. While Libby is ardent in her hatred and has a personal reason for revenge, Josephine is far less tied to the Southern narrative of Northern aggression and just wants to keep a watchful eye on her sister. As if living as male soldiers is not difficult enough—they have to pitch their voices lower and assume the mannerisms of battle-weary veterans—Josephine, the “plain” sister who’d never even been kissed, falls in love with Wesley Abeline, and Wesley feels himself attracted to “Joseph” as well. After the inevitable gender unmasking occurs, Wesley and Josephine/Joseph decide to run away from the war, but not so Libby/Thomas, whose sanity comes into question when she keeps hearing her dead husband’s voice urging her to kill more Yankees—and perhaps even her traitorous sister and her lover, Wesley.
The Hepinstall sisters provide a fascinating glimpse into Civil War life from an unconventional perspective.