Cost’s (Mainely Power, 2001, etc.) historical fiction follows the wartime activities of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
In 1862, 14-year-old Emmett Collins of Brewster, Maine, is an orphan whose remaining siblings have all enlisted with the Union Army. His father’s last letter asked him to seek help from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a noted local professor. Having decided the Union’s cause is just, Chamberlain is determined to enlist along with his brother, Tom. When Emmett shows up on his doorstep, Chamberlain decides to take Emmett along with him. The three men could not be more different: Joshua is a rarified intellectual, Tom a general store owner bored by his humdrum routine, and Emmett a lost boy with no family. Yet the three men are going to have to rely on each other as they’re thrust into some of the most dangerous fighting in the war: Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and then the long siege of Petersburg. Along the way, Emmett is witness to a country in tremendous transition as he meets some of the era’s most notable characters. The book’s title is somewhat misleading, however, as the story also deals equally with Tom and Emmett. That approach works well, though, since Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is such a mythical figure in American history that he can be hard to see as a relatable man. Tom and Emmett, then, help ground the story. Cost does an excellent job immersing the reader in the history and feeling of the time, down to the language of the enlisted men. Additionally, the narrative voice changes appropriately with Emmett as the war years roll on and he grows worldlier. However, the author sometimes relies on Chamberlain to explain to readers the significance of events such as the Emancipation Proclamation, which will be useful information for those unfamiliar with Civil War history but too direct for those already aware.
A lively and enjoyable read for those interested in the Civil War experiences of extraordinary soldiers.