It is the summer of 1862 and the northern army is threatening to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital. Captain Nathaniel Starbuck, born in Boston but a Confederate hero at Manassas, is again in the thick of Civil War action. Bloodied but victorious at the battles of Ball's Bluff and Seven Pines, Nate suddenly finds himself accused of being a Yankee spy. Proving his innocence and finding the real spy will require courage and endurance rarely seen even in the brutal fog of war. Failure could mean the fall of Richmond and a career-ending defeat for Robert E. Lee.
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A master story teller trips & falls
A more believable and complex main character, any developed black characters at all, and not so many unlikely coincidences. (See my comments below.)
More Cornwell but not another book in the Starbuck series. It appears the author lost interest too. After 4 volumes that only got as far as Antietam, he stopped writing more installments in the series in 1996. Maybe he just gave up on trying to make an unbelievable main character believable.
Tom Parker's performance was first rate, bringing a wide variety of characters to life.
Interesting historical detail & some engaging characters, other than the main one.
I am totally unconvinced after hearing two books in this series that the main character, Nate, given his background as the son of an abolitionist preacher and divinity student, would choose to fight for the South, especially after being brutally tortured by them. At one point, he mows down Yankees from his home town, Boston. His reasons and motives for doing so, when they are given at all, are thin and inconsistent with the rest of his character and experience. Simply saying he just had a "rebel streak," was a thoughtless kid or liked the guys he fought with doesn't cut it. Yes, there were Northern Copperheads who joined the South, but this one comes across as more of a convenient plot device than a real person. I just didn't find Nate Starbuck to be believable. Worse, he was often dull!
Also, through a wide variety of pretty well drawn characters from different social classes, the author tries to show what it was actually like to live in the South (not just on the battlefield) during the Civil War. That's commendable, but the problem is that none of these characters are black. I'm not just trying to be "politically correct" here. IMO, given the subject matter of the book, the choices made by the main character and the author's conscious development of many other Southerners, that's a huge, inexplicable, omission. Slavery is periodically deplored in the abstract. Contrary to old time conventional thinking, some Yankee characters don't mind it while some Southerners have no use for it (both of which are true), but slaves themselves appear for the most part as colorful backdrops. None of their characters or thoughts are developed over time or in detail. It's like Tom & Huck with no Jim.
I certainly don't believe the author condones slavery, but I thought he was superficial, uncomfortable and unconvincing in dealing with it. I came away wondering if he was concerned about turning off some potential readers (and losing sales), so he awkwardly danced around the issue. And BTW, I spent several of my teen and university years as a Northern transplant happily growing up South of the Mason Dixon line. I still love the South, I just didn't care for this book.
Beyond that, I found the unlikely (non-historical) coincidences in the lives of the characters that often propelled the plot were beyond belief, even for popular fiction. And, the author spends too much time dallying with some of the peripheral characters (none of whom are black), stalling the plot.
- Trustme "notapundit"