An elaborately detailed rendering of the battle between North and South to court the martial savvy of General Robert E. Lee leading up to the Civil War.
With many historically accurate characters, and a few invented ones, the plot of this novel is complex and well-executed. Both sides know that war is coming, and both are desperate to have Lee as their leader. As his home state of Virginia threatens to secede from the Union and join the nascent Confederacy, his 30-plus-year career in the U.S. Army hangs in the balance, setting the stage for an epic battle of wills. To provide a bird’s-eye view of the situation, Busenkell offers imaginative depictions of some of the famous figures of the day, including Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The narrative is advanced with the help of two invented characters: a Southern farmer set on convincing Lee to join the Confederacy, and an abolitionist raider determined to see slavery end at any cost. Despite being a major bone of contention during the war, slavery, surprisingly, plays a rather small part in the novel, which focuses instead on secession. The painstaking research that has gone into the book is clear; the text is spotted with long passages of historical facts and figures. At times less detail, or detail more subtly integrated, would have been better for the narrative. Busenkell sometimes fails to maintain the delicate balance between â€œhistorical” and â€œfiction,” neglecting the important sensory details that make a scene come alive for its readers. Yet this is a skillful re-creation of what could possibly have been the final days before the start of one of the United States’ most important historical events.
Intricate, if occasionally wonkish, take on the Civil War.