It's 1861 Virginia, and Brown (Ruby fruit Jungle, Six of One, etc.) summons forth a high-stepping platoon of Confederate women and their spunky slaves, who weather the war's blood-and-guts horror and show their men a couple of things about courage to boot. News of the shots on Fort Sumter reaches Chatfield plantation the day after Geneva Chatfield has married the bookish Nash Hart. Nash rides off to defend the Confederacy, leaving his strong-willed bride home with Lutie, her fragile mother, and a passel of ambitious, world-wise slaves. Missing Nash terribly, boyish Geneva dresses up like a man and gallops in pursuit of the cavalry. Once she reaches camp, ""Jimmy"" shows such prowess on horseback that, despite prepubescent appearance, she's allowed to enlist. As the battles progress--huge-scale and ferocious--Jimmy's drawn to her brave commander, Mars Vicar, and has less and less interest in the pallid and disapproving Nash. And back behind the lines, Lutie and company are comforting the wounded and assisting at amputations with uncomplaining fortitude. Several suitably dignified deaths allow a wholesale changing of partners and fresh--liberated!--starts for Geneva and Lutie. The march through history is severely truncated--we're spared the lean years of loss and hunger (the main narrative ends in '62). And likewise, we're spared the messy emotions of anguish and bitterness; there's a sort of dopey good cheer to this madcap brutality. But Brown's female characters, always her strength, don't let us down here: they grab their milieu and shake it fill things fall out as they please. Bracing, skin-deep fun.